Sunday, February 24, 2013

Reviews: All about Love

Okay, I promise I’m not usually this sappy, but this week’s blog post also has a love theme. Not due to the recent passing of Valentine’s Day but because I just finished Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. Rarely do I read teen books where love/romance/the relationship is the focus of the novel, so I wanted to share my review of this totally awesome book and some other YA gems that focus on the almighty power of love. 

Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell
This book is all about love, and I completely loved it! Eleanor and Park are misfits and one would never imagine that they would connect. But that’s what this book is about: their love story and their love connection. On Eleanor's first day in a new school, Park sees her struggling to find a seat on the bus and angrily tells her to sit next to him. Its weeks before they talk and months before they acknowledge their relationship, but we learn so much about Eleanor and Park through their getting to know each other. The descriptions, especially of their first time holding hands and their first kiss, are beautiful and fresh. There is some language throughout, but it reads as real and raw, not crass. As I read the last few pages, I welled up which quite unusual for me. I have to admit (without spoiling it) that I was crying for Eleanor and Park. Their love is a rare, pure gem and the story drew me in so much that I didn’t want to let go. So I did the next best thing: tracked down a copy of Rainbow Rowell’s Attachments. She’s just that good!

Boy Meets Boy – David Levithan
The title pretty much tells the gist of the story, and lets the reader know that this is ground-breaking territory. The main character, Paul is gay and has known since a very young age. He’s been in relationships before but this book is about the relationship. Paul’s voice is clear and individual, and I very much related to him. Levithan does a great job drawing the reader into this super-unique high school with its complicated map of relationships and diverse cast of characters. Each character is intriguing and quirkiness abounds in their traits. One of the best things about this book is that it’s a traditional love story with an ultra-new, ahead-of-the-curve twist in that it’s about two boys. I adored it and plan to dive into more of Levithan’s novels soon.

Forever…  – Judy Blume
High school seniors Katherine and Michael (and their love) are not the point of this story—their experiences are. They meet, start “going together” and eventually have sex. This book was revolutionary in exploring sex for teens and the consequences, both when it was published in the 70s and today. Within the space of the novel, a character gets pregnant, another is suicidal and Katherine visits Planned Parenthood so she can go on the pill to avoid pregnancy. Blume candidly makes the point that when you’re young, love seems like it will last forever. However, also when you’re young, you are na├»ve and still growing, therefore you don’t realize that who you love will likely change and that nothing lasts forever.

Hope you enjoyed these love-centric reviews!  Eleanor & Park will be on the shelves this Tuesday—I highly recommend it!


Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Prominent Loves of YA Fiction

One can hardly pick up a YA book these days without having romance flow from the pages. Whether star-crossed, triangle-shaped or just plain complicated, love is a major theme in YA fiction. Some books are solely or mostly about love, while others simply have an underlying love story. Here are a few prominent types of love found in YA:

Star-crossed love
Forever immortalized in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, star-crossed lovers come from opposite sides of something (trenches, tracks, etc). Maybe the teens are different species, like in Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Karou is human while Akiva is seraphim (angel) and their attraction is regarded as unnatural by their own kind. Without spoiling it, their love is a serious matter. However star-crossed lovers aren’t always a matter of species, they can be from opposite sides of the track as well. Both human but still from vastly different backgrounds, June and Day are unlikely comrades in Marie Lu’s Legend. Since one is a prodigy for the Republic and the other is its most wanted criminal, any relationship for June and Day will be complicated. And a love, star-crossed.

The Love Triangle
With the popularity of Team Edward vs. Team Jacob in the Twilight series, one can hardly discuss YA love without a section on love triangles. In most cases, this is a situation where the girl has two distinct boys (usually relative opposites) who could potentially be more-than-friends. Themes of triangle-shaped love can be found in the Wings series by Aprilynne Pike between Laurel, Tamani and David. Laurel’s (human) boyfriend is the safe choice while her faerie companion, Tamani has a more dangerous, mysterious edge.  Also, in the Matched series by Ally Condie, Cassia is torn between Xander and Ky. She is matched with Xander, but Ky might be her true love.

Generally Complicated
Although most romances in YA have elements of complication (otherwise why would we keep reading?) there are some that are just generally complicated. There’s no fantasy element or triangles, just straightforward super-complicated love. One such book is Gayle Forman’s If I Stay and its sequel Where She Went. After Manilyn’s family is in a devastating car accident, she has to decide whether to let in the love of her boyfriend, Adam and whether to continue to live at all. Another example of generally complicated love is Kat and Hale’s relationship in Ally Carter’s Heist Society. Kat is the Robin Hood of teen thievery and Hale is her generous benefactor/friend, which makes it hard to have a normal boyfriend-girlfriend relationship.

Just for Fun
Occasionally in YA we stumble across loves that are fun and new, with only a smattering of complication. These usually appear in light-hearted, adventurous reads and I enjoy diving into them. So, just for fun let’s look at the love of Dash and Lily in their holiday NYC extravaganza in Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. If you found a notebook in a bookshop or library, would you be able to say no to its list of dares? Didn’t think so. Also, Morgan Matson wrote a fun, crushable romance between Amy and Roger in Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour. When Amy needs a companion for a cross-country journey, her mom suggests Roger, her friend’s son. Not only does Amy find a little bit of love, but she finds herself as well.

Happy Late Valentine’s Day!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

My Reading Habit

Four years ago, I started keeping a reading journal. It lists every book I’ve read in four years, when I read it and has a one page review, with basic plot information and my opinion of the book overall. These journals (I started my second in early 2012) have been an undeniable resource in tracking my reading. Recently, I saw it fit to enter every book into Goodreads. I am happy to note that in the past 4 years, I’ve read over 200 books.

Then I stumbled upon this lovely chart that tells how many books I read each year since I started tracking:

(A note on 2008: I didn’t begin my journal until 2009, however
I do know that I read some series (namely Twilight) at the end of 2008,
so this is a rough estimate of my reading beginning August 2008.)
Turns out I’m all over the place with my reading. I had known that some years I read more and some years I struggled to get books read. But whoa. Turns out I had never known the exact numbers.

Reviewing this chart I noticed that:

1)     I can tell a lot about each year of my life from how much I read. There is a correlation in my job/personal situation and how much I read. I won’t go into the unappealing details, but factors in my life dictated how much I read. This is unfortunate but inescapable.

2)     I need to balance out how much I read. I need to set a doable reading goal, and make sure that my life doesn't revolve around reading (e.g. 2010) but I don’t want it to fall by the wayside either (e.g. 2011).
I first read about Goodreads Reading Challenge on Heather Marie's blog, and I loved the idea. After some thought, I decided a good reading year for me would be 30-40 books (more than 2012, but less than 2009). So I decided to set my goal for 2013 right in the middle with 35 books. It’s pretty much 3 books a month and one book every 10 days (with a little leeway). It’s an achievable goal. Reading won’t take over my life, but I won’t allow myself to forget about it either.

So here it is:

Right now, I’m on track. I read three awesome books in January, and I’m nearly done with my fourth, the newest from Ally Carter. It will be a challenge (hence the title) to stay on top of this, but it’s one that I readily accept. Who knows where 2013 will take me and if I will have time for 31 more books, but I hope I will. Because sometimes the fantasy worlds of teen books can take me farther than I have the means to travel in real life.
Happy reading!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Precision of Words

There is an importance in the precision of words. I was recently reminded of this while reading Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor. These books are about Karou, a blue-haired, artistic human girl who collects teeth for her chimaera “father.” When Akiva, a seraphim, descends into her life, the easy (albeit monster-filled) world that she has known becomes one of war and complication. Through both novels, Taylor’s words and descriptions are vibrant, passionate, and most importantly, precise. These words form clear, colorful, fresh images in the reader’s mind. As I was reading, some of the words and descriptions were so astounding that I paused to appreciate them, and made note of their location. Here are two such selections:

“The first time she’d come to Prague, she’d gotten so lost exploring these streets. She’d passed an art gallery and a few blocks later doubled back to find it, and… couldn’t. The city had swallowed it. In fact, she had never found it. There was a deceptive tangling of alleys that gave the impression of a map that shifted behind you, gargoyles tiptoeing away, stones like puzzle pieces rearranging themselves into new configurations while you weren’t looking. Prague entranced you, lured you in, like the mythic fey who trick travelers deep into forests until they’re lost beyond hope. But being lost here was a gentle adventure of marionette shops and absinthe, and the only creatures lurking around corners were Kaz and his cohorts in vampire makeup, ready with a silly thrill. Usually."
-Daughter of Smoke and Bone, page 183

“One world on its own is a strange enough seethe of coiling, unknowable veins of intention and change, but two? Where two worlds mingle breath through rips in the sky, the strange becomes stranger, and many things may come to pass that few imaginations could encompass.”
-Days of Blood & Starlight, page 491

When I read the first selection, I see a map of Prague that shifts around Karou like puzzle pieces. I see gargoyles shrinking away in the shadows and fairies with trickery in their eyes. These images form strongly in my mind. There is power in words like tangling, lure, cohorts, coiling and even absinthe. And when precise, pulsing words are strung together to form sentences and paragraphs, there is real magic in the imagery they create.

Word selection and usage can paint images within readers’ minds. They can bring an image to life, have it living and breathing and three-dimensional. This is why the precise selection of words is vital. Because there is a difference between anxious and nervous. There is a difference between blue and cerulean. There is a difference between happy, joyful, excited and ecstatic. And it’s not just a matter of using a thesaurus. Because some words, some descriptions are more innate. Maybe they come from a metaphor that no one has ever considered, and they pump life and heart into the story. They may come from a phrase of two or three hand-selected words that conjure something exact when put together in that fashion. Even if just one word is interchanged, the meaning may change and the image may fall.

Magic within words isn’t an everyday occurrence. It is unique, more so than the word ‘unique’ itself, which is why I am so appreciative of the precision of Taylor’s words within both of her novels. And why I strive for the same precision within my own work.