Nov 26 2013

Book Review: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow RowellI bought Eleanor & Park in support of the author due to a censorship controversy that happened, in which parents in Minnesota convinced a local school district, county board, and local library board to cancel Rainbow Rowell’s reading and speaking events, because they believe the book to be obscene.

I am ridiculously glad I bought this book, because it turned out to be one of my favorite books this year. It’s an incredibly funny and sweet love story between two outcast teenagers. The rub for these parents, I suppose, is that Rowell approached the story with honesty, the teenagers are intimate (but not overtly so) and cuss as a direct result of the abuse and bullying they witness. Rowell is an author who doesn’t pull punches, but she does so skillfully to reveal truth and offer hope in bleak circumstances.

Park is something of an outcast. He’s not tormented by the other kids because of being “grandfathered” into the community as one of the locals, but he still doesn’t quite fit in. He doesn’t meet his dad’s standards of being manly or his school’s standards of being cool, so he kind of floats in an in between place of not being friendless while also being rather lonely.

Eleanor moves back in with her mom, brothers, sister, and abusive stepdad after having been kicked out of the house for a year. The loneliness of having been excluded of her family life has left its mark on her and she feels like an outsider in her own home. Desperate to not be abandoned again, she does her best fit within her step father’s rules, while also avoiding him. At school, her sense of exclusion is continued with bullying from the popular kids, who continually call her names and harass her.

Eleanor and Park meet as she climbs the bus for the first time on the way to school. The bus has its own rules and hierarchies, into which Eleanor does not fit and it leaves her standing in the aisle as the bus jolts into motion. Park’s first intention to is to leave her hanging like the rest, but he scoots aside and lets Eleanor sit with him. What starts out as indifference grows into friendship as the two begin sharing and exchanging music and comics, then as their friendship blooms into trust it becomes love.

I loved Rowell’s writing style, which was clean and occasionally poetic. (“His eyes were so green, they could turn carbon dioxide into oxygen.”) And I love how she structured the story, with it being told from both Eleanor and Park’s point of views. This allowed for one part of the conflict to exist in misunderstandings in the way we perceive ourselves and how we think people perceive us. Neither Park nor Eleanor are mind readers and so often presume the negative (he must hate me, she must be embarrassed by my, he must think I’m fat), when the reality is that the thing one is most embarrassed by is one of the things the other loves most.

The way the relationship grows and changes and becomes slowly more intimate throughout the novel is touching and funny and sad. It’s really a great read and one I would recommend to anyone who likes bitter-sweet romance.


Nov 15 2013

Three Things I Would Like to See in More Novels

Book of love

As a reader, I can’t help noticing patterns that emerge in the stories I read. Sometimes these stories are spot on, and sometimes I find myself longing for different kinds of stories than what I see on the pages. Here are a few tropes or plots points I would like see occur in more books.*

1. Books That Start with the Characters Already in a Romantic Relationship

So many stories, from romance novels to YA fantasy, begin with two strangers meeting for the first time, having instant attraction, and ultimately finding their way to love. These stories are great, and I enjoy them just as much as the next person.

But these stories seem to stem from the idea the Falling-in-Love aspect is the only interesting or challenging part of a relationship. If our two heroes can just get past these hurdles, then they’ll realize it’s True Love and they’ll be guaranteed their happily ever after.

The reality is that relationships are hard work. It involves day-to-day acts of compassion, understanding, and compromise in order to stay in love.

Staying-in-Love has the potential to be just as compelling and romantic a trope as Falling-in-Love, and would be great to see more stories begin with characters already in a relationship, which they have to hold on to through the storm.

2. Non-Romantic Relationships

Again this is me not so much turning away from romance, but wanting an addendum to it. Many stories, particularly in YA books, focus on the love story to the end that other relationships fade to the background. Sometimes that happens, a person falls in love and is so wrapped up in the feeling, they can’t make the other valuable relationships with friends and family fit in.

But I think life tends to be more multilayered than that and with all the levels of relationships and love — mothers, fathers, siblings, best friends, cousins, etc. — there is a lot of room for emotional complexity. I’m not saying ditch the romance (though I kind of am with my book), but alongside falling in love, lets have some of the other kinds of relationships, too.

3. Quiet Moments

Roger Ebert talked about quiet moments in an interview he did with Hayao Miyazaki:

I told Miyazaki I love the “gratuitous motion” in his films; instead of every movement being dictated by the story, sometimes people will just sit for a moment, or they will sigh, or look in a running stream, or do something extra, not to advance the story but only to give the sense of time and place and who they are.

“We have a word for that in Japanese,” Miyazaki said. “It’s called ma. Emptiness. It’s there intentionally.”

Is that like the “pillow words” that separate phrases in Japanese poetry?

“I don’t think it’s like the pillow word.” He clapped his hands three or four times. “The time in between my clapping is ma. If you just have non-stop action with no breathing space at all, it’s just busyness. But if you take a moment, then the tension building in the film can grow into a wider dimension. If you just have constant tension at 80 degrees all the time you just get numb.

Reading this, I thought about how many stories just power through to the ending in one action sequence after another without allowing that space to breathe and feel something.

Placing a quiet, still moment into a story seems easier in a movie, because it’s a visual form. But I think it’s possible to achieve in books, too, and I would like to see more stories, normally rife with action allow a space for the reader to feel about the characters before plunging in again.

What are tropes, plots, ideas that you would like to see appear in more novels?

*And, as I long to see these things, I find myself drawn to writing them in order to fulfill that desire.

 * * *

Since this is supposed to be a Friday Five post, here are two more unrelated Things you may be interested in checking out:

1. An awesome blog post analyzes the concept of the “Man Card”, which basically a way of metaphorically and jokingly measuring a person’s manliness:

“The Man Card concept specifically, however, is insulting to men and women in what it’s saying about our respective roles. Men are supposed be this way, not that way. Do these things, not those things. You’re not a man if you don’t fit society’s (or some section thereof’s) definition of one, and, unfortunately, people who joke this way are denigrating empathy, sympathy, respect for women, honesty, sensitivity, and responsibility. They’re saying real men prize getting their way over cooperating or compromising. Real men don’t care what their girlfriends or wives think. Real men do what they want.

This is dangerous.”

2. Check out Malinda Lo’s Guide to YA. Malinda Lo is the author of a great Cinderella retelling, called Ash, and she’s writing a multitude of posts YA novels, particularly those with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender characters or issues. If you’re a writer at all interested in writing about GBLTQ characters or issues, then I highly recommend working your way through this reading list.


Nov 12 2013

Book Review: Dying is My Business by Nicholas Kaufmann

(Cover) Dying is My Business by Nicholas Kaufmann“Coming back from the dead feels less like a miracle than like waking up with the world’s most debilitating hangover.”

Dear Mr. Kaufmann,

First you invade my dream with creepy pictures. Now this.

I had plans, you know. I had things to do. But no, you had to provide me with the awesome that is Dying is My Business. Now my laundry remains unfolded. Stacks of papers and other detritus continue to clutter my shelves. All the words I planned to write remain unwritten. And I’m can’t seem to rub the glue from my eyes, as I try to recover from the hours of sleep I lost last night in the desperate need to finish reading.

I was absorbed by the story from page one, when Trent wakes from being shot and killed yet again with another dried out husk of a body nearby. The trade off for his return to life is that someone else must die.  As an apparent side effect of his condition, Trent has also lost all of his memories beyond one year before. He’s been taken in by Underwood, a twisted and violent crime boss, who exploits his abilities and sends him out to “collect” various things. Trent’s latest assignment to collect a mysterious box quickly leads him into a new understanding of the world, a world that includes magic, gargoyles, and a whole slew of things most people never knew existed.

Having an amnesiac main character can potentially be annoying, if not handled well. But Trent as a character is spot on. His loss of self and personal history has caused him to be cynical and fatalistic in understandable ways. He longs for the truth about his past without becoming tedious or whiny, and it’s easy to see how Underwood could have drawn him in by promising those truths. Trent is sometimes protagonist, sometimes antagonist, and sometimes both. He carries a great level of guilt for the lives he’s taken and the crimes he’s committed, making for a conflicted and fascinating character.

Now, can I just take a moment express my love for Bethany? This diminutive, spright-like young woman with a passion for the rules, a troubled past, and vest full of charms that will lay you on your ass has won my heart. She is hard edged, intelligent, honest, and kind. She is, in a phrase, many kinds of awesome.

And then there is poor, poor Thompson Thornton (Whoops. Knew I was getting it wrong). My heart is all asunder from his hopeful bravery and ability to crack jokes in the face of his tragedy.

I have love for all the characters really, even the nasty ones. Underwood and his cronies are cruel and unsettling in the most delightful ways. The Black Knight is destructive, powerful, and greedy for power. I shiver at the thought of ever meeting anyone of them in a dark alley.

Last night, I could not stop reading. I turned page after page, ignoring the episodes of Big Bang Theory my roommate turned on and loosing — as I mentioned — much sleep. I continued reading even as my friend began to turn of all the lights in the house, leaving only a single lamp behind my head to illuminate the pages.

Upon finally reaching the end, I began to flail. “No!” I cried, waking my roommate from her deep slumber. “Why?! Why is it over? I need more book! Why isn’t there more book?!”

You’re ending gave me chills, and I find myself awash with feels, saddened and maddened that it’s over. How can it be over, when I want so much to keep reading, to know what happens next, to know the fates of the characters I’ve come to love?

Why would you do this to me, Mr. Kaufmann? What am I supposed to do with my life now?

This had better be the beginning of a series with the second book to come in the near future. Because if I do not have the sequel soon, I will be forced find a way to flay you in a manner that would make Underwood grin.

Sincerely, you’re humble reader,

Andrea

PS. Giveaway! —> Those moved to book-lust by my review/letter, may be interested to know that LazyDay.CA has three copies of Dying Is My Business they’re offering as part of a free giveaway, which ends December 1. (Found via Mr. Kaufmann’s website: www.nicholaskaufmann.com.)

 


Nov 3 2013

Books Completed in October

1. In Search of Captain Zero: A Surfer’s Road Trip Beyond the End of the Road, by Allan Weisbecker (***1/2)
2. Zone One (audio book), by Colson Whitehead (****)
3. Under the Tuscan Sun, by Frances Mayes (****)
4. Day Watch, by Sergei Lukyanenko (***1/2)
5. Alice in Wonderland: A Color Primer, by Jennifer Adams, art by Alison Oliver (*****)
6. The War of the Worlds, by HG Wells (***1/2)
7. A Stir of Echoes, by Richard Matheson (****)
8. The Eye Book, by Dr. Seuss (writing as Theo LeSieg) (****)
9. American Elsewhere, by Robert Jackson Bennett (*****)

REVIEWS: Continue reading


Oct 7 2013

Books Completed in September

1. The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling (****)
2. Burnout, written by Rebecca Donner, illustrated by Inaki Miranda (**1/2)
3. The Outcast Oracle, by Laury A Egan (****)
4. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman (*****)
5. Sister Slam and the Poetic Motormouth Road Trip, by Linda Oatman High (***1/2)
6. Memento Mori, by Murial Spark (****)
7. Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E Butler (*****)
8. Parable of the Talents, by Octavia E Butler (****)
9. Shadow, by Suzy Lee (*****)

Reviews are behind the cut.

Continue reading