Sibling rivalry with a twist

Vanishing Girls, by Lauren Oliver (2015)

Opening line: “The funny thing about almost-dying is that afterward everyone expects you to jump on the happy train and take time to chase the butterflies through grassy fields or see rainbows in puddles of oil on the highway.”

Like many sisters who are close in age, Nick and Dara are totally different yet totally inseparable. Nick, the older more level-headed one, is often in the role of keeper of her slightly younger wild-child sis. That is, until the terrible car accident that changed everything. The accident left Dara with awful scars and a rift between the girls. Things were also weird leading up to the accident, though, after Dara started kissing Parker, Nick’s best friend.

It’s summer and Nick has recently returned home after time away after the accident and learns of a recent missing child, Madeline Snow, who disappeared out of the family car. When Dara doesn’t show up to her family birthday dinner, Nick initially thinks she’s just messing around. But then signs seem to point toward connections between Madeline’s disappearance and Dara’s. And despite their recent estrangement, she will do whatever she has to to track her down.

I have to say, I’ve listened to almost all of Lauren Oliver’s novels on audio with the delightful narrator of Sarah Drew (April Kepner of Grey’s, or if you’re more inclined, Hannah Rogers of Everwood), but this one has a whole cast of narrators (none of which include Sarah), and for some reason that threw me. I struggled to get in to this one, partly because of that, partly because the different formats used to tell the story (regular narrative, internet comments, diary entries, emails, chronology jumps) are difficult to translate to audio. I might have picked up on the twist at the end more quickly had I read it in print, but instead wrote it off as confusion. Because there IS a big twist at the end, one that made me wish I had the book to go back and look through for clues. Reviewers have compared it to We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (which I thoroughly enjoyed) for this reason.

Not my favorite Oliver novel, but not bad. 1.5 stars.

Imperfect romance in the City of Love

Anna and the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins (2010)

Opening line: “Here is everything I know about France: Madeline and Amelie and Moulin Rouge.

Anna’s divorced parents decide she should spend her senior year at a boarding school in Paris. Why? No one’s sure, especially not Anna. And she’s not too thrilled about it either. She muses that she perhaps would have been thrilled by the option of a year in Paris, but not by the demand. After all, she has a bff, a job, and a cute boy to pine over all back in Atlanta. Instead, she’s in the City of Lights with not a friend to her name and the most minimal knowledge of French (we’re talking oui and merci).

Fortunately, her next door neighbor in the dorm is super nice and Anna has a group of friends almost immediately. Also fortunately, there’s a super cute, british-accented boy who is part of said friend group. Unfortunately, he already has a girlfriend AND the friendly next door neighbor is also in love with him.

You might be thinking, this sounds a bit formulaic and a bit cheesy, and you’d be right. It is that. And it might be easy to write this one off as just that. However, as a girl who pined after a boy who had a girlfriend during her own senior year in high school, this felt SPOT ON emotionally. The constant confusion of liking him, feeling guilty for liking him, feeling sure that you and he would make a much better couple than him and his current girlfriend, feeling inadequate for not being enough for him, etc. And I think teenage readers will connect to these feelings as well.

Not high-brow, inspiring literature, but relevant and fun escapism romance. 1.5 stars

A Rom-Com, of the intellectual and relatively depressing variety…

The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides (2011)

Opening line: “To start with, look at all the books.”

It’s hard to deny my attraction to a book that begins this way. A coworker of mine several years ago told me that as a former English major, I should definitely read The Marriage Plot. She was right — it’s got the fixings to a novel I should love: literary references out the wazoo, multiple character perspectives, a sense of epic storytelling (crossing time periods and oceans), and a complicated romance.

Madeleine Hanna is an English major working on her thesis about the “marriage plot” of literature’s great novelists, like Jane Austen, George Eliot, and the Brontes. But while her intellectual mind is caught up in the romantic structure of the page, her real life romance is much more complicated, featuring two very different gentlemen. The first is Mitchell, who was “friend-zoned” freshmen year but still holds a torch for our heroine, while the second is Leonard, a mysterious biology student who intrigues and enchants Madeleine like no one has before. And while this might sound like the makings of a very common modern-day marriage plot, Eugenides does what he does best by complicating things with intense, intricately-crafted characters. Mitchell heads off to Europe and India after college with his roommate to figure out what the hell he’s doing with his life with or without Madeleine, while Madeleine and Leonard deal with Leonard’s apparent bipolar disorder, or as it was known in the 1980s when this tale is set, manic depression.

I liked this book. I wouldn’t stretch it to love, but, like I said before, what Jeffrey Eugenides does, he does well (see my review of his previous book Middlesex). I admire his character development, the vastness of his landscape, both in terms of time and place, and his way of piecing together stories in a way that adds depth and intrigue.

1.5 stars, edging to 2.

Rereading the summer away

The Hunger Games Trilogy, by Suzanne Collins (2008-2010)

As fun as the anticipation of preordering, waiting for, and devouring a new book in a series can be, I have to say that The Hunger Games series can be most appreciated when read consecutively as a set. I’ll admit it, when I first read the final book in the trilogy, Mockingjay, I left the couch only for food and felt angry, hurt, and depressed when I finished. (You’ll notice that while I reviewed the first first one here, and touched on the second one, the third I left unspoken.) After I talked it over with a group of other readers, I felt slightly better. But I still wasn’t impressed. I mean, really horrible things happen in Mockingjay and there’s very little to smile about.

But I decided I needed to give it another chance, and so this past week, I borrowed the first two from my mom (yes, mom has two of the three, and I just have the one), and spent several hours reading all 1100+ pages. And I have to say, I felt much better. Awful terrible things still happen in Mockingjay, but the story feels stronger as a threesome and I understood the need for all the pain and suffering in a way I didn’t before. I’m once again struck by the amazing ideas and messages that are said through the dystopian genre.

Although none of them separately deserve it, as a whole, 3 stars.

And by the way, my vote’s still for Peeta. Another thing she got right.

A long time coming

Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte (2001, originally published 1847)

It happened. I finally finished Jane Eyre. After starting it almost three months ago (you’re not the only one, slw) and renewing it twice, I turned the final page this morning. I had originally sought out the book because of the impending feature film with Mia Wasikowska. The trailers reminded me of how much I love time pieces, like Pride and Prejudice, Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, Sense & Sensibility, the list can go on and on… The costumes and language and romance always makes me feel like I’m in a completely different world (which is nice when I am banging my head against the wall after reading the tenth article on social responsibilities of libraries and information services). It seemed that the movie would be the perfect excuse to read the book.

In my head I had always classified the Bronte sisters with Jane Austen, although academically, I knew that Austen was in the Romantic period, and the Brontes in the Victorian period. But in my mind, they were all British female authors from a long time ago when corsets were making waists tiny and men’s trousers gave us all a pretty picture. I was surprised, then, when I started Jane Eyre and found a completely different environment.

For those of you who have not read it, a quick synopsis: Jane, an orphan living with her terrible aunt and cousins (think Cinderella), has a strong imagination, or so she is told, that allows her to perceive ghosts/spirits/evil to the point where she makes herself ill. Her aunt, anxious to be rid of her, jumps at the chance to send her away to school, where she lives for many years, as a student and then a teacher. But after teaching for two years, Jane becomes bored and answers a call for a governess position at Thornfield Manor, where she is greeted by the housekeeper and a young energetic French girl, Adele. It is quite a while before Jane meets her employer, a dark and handsome man (obviously), Mr. Rochester. Secretly, Jane finds herself falling in love with him (duh), and much to her surprise, he seems to return the feeling. But strange things start happening at Thornfield: one night Jane saves Mr. Rochester from a fire in his room; on another she keeps watch over a wounded friend of Rochester’s while he attends to the mysterious assailant; and once Jane wakes to find some strange creature in her room trying on her things. And the whole time, the reader is like, WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON? At least…I was. And when you do find out what’s going on, you’ll still be like, WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON?

Despite the fact that it took me three months to read (I had about 12 other books to read during that time, I promise!), this classic text is a page-turner, spurred on by Jane’s somewhat sassy narrative in which she often addresses the reader directly, justifying the somewhat unbelievable events of her story to make them utterly convincing. I’m glad I stuck it out, even though the MOVIE NEVER CAME TO MY TOWN. Guess I’ll have to wait for the RedBox, and in the meantime, watch the trailer over and over.

2 stars

My vote’s for Peeta.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2008)

I have to admit something. Sometimes I think YA books are just better than grown-up books. I spend serious amounts of time in the kids and YA sections of book stores. There are just as many YA books that I want to read as adult literature. It’s embarrassing sometimes to be sitting in the dentist’s office reading books meant for fourteen year olds, when I’m almost twenty two. And yet, they’re just. so. good.

But I wouldn’t be embarrassed about this one.

Joining the ranks of The Giver, Farhenheit 451, and 1984, The Hunger Games tells the story of Katniss, a teenage girl attempting to keep her family alive in the post-apocalytic society of Panem. The Capitol of Panem, in order to remind their citizens who is in control, requires that two tributes (a male and female) from each district (12 districts total) be sent every year to complete in the Hunger Games, a gladiator-style, televised fight to the death. The worst part: the fighters are all children.

When Katniss’s younger sister is selected to be a tribute of District 12, Katniss volunteers to take her place and is suddenly thrust into a fight for her life. Quickly, Katniss must learn how to compete in an arena of killers, some of whom have been training their whole lives for the honor of being victor. Brutal, horrifying, and heartbreaking at times, Collins keeps the pages turning with Katniss’ dark humor and realistic struggles–struggles that all teens go through, despite her somewhat unique situation. OH, and there’s a romantic storyline too (TWO actually), so you’re sure to get your fix of teen angst. First, there’s Gale, Katniss’ best friend from District 12, the guy who has been her companion since childhood. Then there’s Peeta, Katniss’ District 12 partner in the Games, whose affections for Katniss may just be a plot to win. Katniss spends a lot of her time confused about who has feelings for whom and whether she likes anybody. Let’s be honest–when you’re a 16-year-old girl, who cares if 23 people are trying to kill you. What really matters at the end of the day is who you’re kissing.

This is just the first book of a trilogy, so the ending kind of sucks (it’s NOT and ending, in fact), but I’m almost through the second book and I’m loving this one even more. I’m thoroughly bummed that the next one isn’t coming out until the end of the summer. What’s a girl to do?

2.5 stars (I really want to give it a three. But I just can’t quite do it.)