Things that go bump in the night

What We Saw at Night, by Jacquelyn Mitchard (2013)

Lots of times I listen to audiobooks I might not otherwise read based on what’s available at the time I need something else to listen to. I feel like I’ve really maxed out the audio collection of the public library system I just moved from, but they have a waaay bigger selection than the audio collection of the public library system I moved into, so I have been perusing both (don’t tell). I ran across this title, and it was one I’d never heard of, although I was familiar with the author as that one woman who’s book started that little thing called Oprah’s Book Club. I had no idea she’d written YA though, and the premise sounded interesting enough. You know I’ve been into thrillers lately, and this one sounded creepy.

Allie Kim has Xeroderma Pigmentosum, otherwise known as XP, an allergy to sunlight that makes her life a bit like a vampire’s. Unlike other kids her age, who have curfews of 11pm or midnight, Allie’s curfew is dawn. She must make it home before sunrise, or be subject to blistering skin, drastically increased chance for fatal skin cancer, and/or blindness. Luckily, Allie lives in a small town in Minnesota home to a research and medical facility focusing on XP. Those with this condition flock there, giving her best friends named Rob and Juliet, two more patients at the facility. Juliet’s an athlete, and after her skiing career comes to an end, she convinces Rob and Allie that they have to embrace the night and their lives by taking up Parkour. Parkour, or freerunning, is the discipline of getting from one location to another without letting things like sheer walls or 12 foot gaps get in your way. You may have seen videos on YouTube several years ago. Without the proper training and mindset, it can be incredibly dangerous. Even more so when you do it at night.

On their first real “trace” (the lingo used in Parkour for “run” or “routine” of sorts), the three friends take to the top of a new construction apartment complex, but before they even really get started, Allie sees something horrifying. Through the glass doors of one of the empty apartments, she sees a man standing over a girl who appears to be dead. And then the man looks up and looks straight at Allie.

Being the only one who saw anything, Allie tries to convince herself that what she thinks happened didn’t really happen. But after she starts doing a little solo investigation, things aren’t lining up. And then other things start happening. Like text messages from a blocked number. And a car that tries to run her down. And a door now shut after she left it open. To top it off, Juliet is being super weird. She’s knows more than she’s telling, and Allie starts to wonder if she’s somehow involved.

I was so intrigued by the premise of this story: super spooky (non-supernatural!) thriller, with the added layers of XP, causing the setting to always be darkness. I think I know why I hadn’t heard of it before, though. It was just okay. I mean, I wanted to know what happened, and it was definitely scary at parts, but I just didn’t feel that connected to Allie, Rob, or Juliet. And, (spoiler?) it doesn’t give you all the answers! You’re left wondering, and not in a good way! So frustrating!

So, hem, haw, 1 star.

Girl Problems, or something

Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir, by Liz Prince (2014)

Opening line: “No, Mommy!”

From the time she was a toddler (actually, she says from the time she left the womb), Liz knew that she wasn’t like other girls. She didn’t want to wear dresses, she didn’t want to play with dolls, and she didn’t really like playing with other girls either. Her heroes were Luke Skywalker and Indiana Jones. She played baseball on a team with all boys (until the day they made everyone put on cups). She very strongly felt that she was more like a boy than a girl, or at least any girl that anyone else saw. And although we have a shared experience of being called a boy in the school cafeteria (thanks for insisting on that haircut, mom), we were horrified for different reasons. Me, because I was most definitely a girl and wanted to be seen as such; her, because she wanted to be able to be seen as herself.

I guess those are similar.

This graphic memoir is such a wonderful contribution to YA lit. Whether you identify with Liz, where your normal is different from what the world tells you is normal, or whether you are confused by all the transgender issues in the news today (to be clear: Liz does not identify as transgender), or whether you are wanting a way to show others that their normal is okay, this book is for you! It gives such an honest portrayal of what we all know is a very confusing time, when all of us try to figure out just who we are and how we fit, and how the image other people see of us is often not how we see ourselves. (Interestingly, the photo of Liz in the author’s blurb looks nothing like the way she draws herself, minus the short hair and glasses. Perhaps the two shall never meet.) Liz is an amazingly resilient character with lots of sass to combat the endless bullying she encounters, a great example for many to aspire to. We need more like her, and more like Tomboy.

2 stars

A new kind of magic

The Magicians, by Lev Grossman (2009)

There’s a guy that rides the same bus as me who will talk to anybody who will listen (and sometimes even when no one will). The other day I was reading this book waiting for the bus, and Talker sat down next to me. After telling me about his daughter, his wife in Iraq, and how the chocolate bar he was eating was way too expensive at $1.09, he asked me if what I was reading was a good book. I paused, looked down at page 304 that I was reading from, and realized I wasn’t sure.

“I think so,” I answered.

“Well, I’d hope so, since you’re already that far in!”

I’ve been having a lot of those lately. I read enough of a book that I’m committed, but by the end, I’m not really sure I liked it. Mockingjay, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Savvy…I don’t know if I really liked any of them.

I started reading The Magicians this summer while I was bored to tears on a Sunday night behind the cash register. It was on the “Books to Know” table by the front of the store and the back said it was like Narnia and Harry Potter and something else I was unfamiliar with all rolled into one. Sounded good to me.

Quentin Coldwater is seventeen years old, in love with his best friend’s girl, frustrated with his nothing life, and still obsessed with his favorite childhood book series, Fillory (a.k.a. Narnia). After his university interview falls through (when the alum dies suddenly) he gets lost in an old, dying garden and wanders onto the grounds of a magic school, Brakebills. There he is asked to take an exam to determine if he’s a good fit for the school and if he passes, he will be trained to become a magician. Not a card trick magician. A for real magician. (If you’re more familiar with J.K. Rowling than C.S. Lewis, think “wizard.”) And since Quentin doesn’t feel like he has much going for him in his regular life, he’s like, “Hells yeah, I wanna be a magician.” Without so much as au revoir to Mom and Pops, Quentin enrolls into Brakebills Academy with confidence that his  real life is about to begin. And the reader thinks so, too.

But not so much. And then later, after he falls in love, Quentin/the reader thinks again that his life is about to begin.

And then later, after he graduates, Quentin/the reader thinks again that his life is about to begin.

And then later, when he goes to _____ (I don’t want to give any spoilers), Quentin/the reader thinks again that his life is about to begin.

Perhaps this was Lev Grossman’s intent. His lack of plot points and increasing let-downs are meant to reflect Quentin’s struggle with his dissatisfaction with his own life. This way the reader truly got in touch with the character.

Unfortunately, that just meant I was dissatisfied with The Magicians.

The one thing I did appreciate from this book was the idea that books we read as children (such as Quentin’s Fillory experiences) can have a lasting impression on us for the rest of our lives. Books can shape who we are and who we become in a way that a parent or guardian cannot.

Interesting, but not quite interesting enough. One star.