A search for peace among war

51pf6phqmrlPax, by Sara Pennypacker (2016)

Opening line: “The fox felt the car slow before the boy did, as he felt everything first.”

Get ready for a heart-breaker, friends.

Years ago, while playing in the woods, Peter stumbled across a dead mother fox and her litter of pups, all but one of whom were also dead. The tiniest one was somehow surviving, and Peter brought him home and named him Pax. Since that moment, the two, boy and fox, were inseparable. But now war is upon them, and Peter’s father is joining the effort, meaning that Peter must go live with his grandfather, where Pax is not allowed. Heartbroken, but seeing no other option, he releases him into the wild, where he hopes he will be safe. Pax, of course, doesn’t understand, and plans to wait until his boy returns. But when hunger sets in and danger lurks, that plan isn’t quite so easy.

Meanwhile, the moment Peter arrives at his grandfather’s, he knows he made a mistake leaving Pax behind. He will know no peace until he finds Pax again. So he sets out in the middle of the night, planning to hike the couple hundred miles back to where he left his fox. As you might imagine, things go array pretty quickly.

The chapters switch back and forth between Peter’s story and Pax’s, as both are desperate to reunite with the other. The alternating perspectives spur the story forward, allowing the reader to feel that desperation as well. Those who loved One and Only Ivan will love Pax as well, and it is well-deserving of its spot on the NBA Young People’s Literature longlist for 2016.

2 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

Another South Carolinian Debutante

Girls in Trucks, by Katie Crouch (2008)

Opening Line: “If you are white, are a girl or boy between the ages of nine and twelve, and, according to a certain committee of mothers, are good enough to associate with Charleston’s other good girls and boys, than Wednesday night is a busy night for you.”

For some reason, the opening line to Katie Crouch’s debut novel reminds me of the opening line to Pride and Prejudice. They’re really not that similar, but the impression is somewhat complementary: If you grow up in this society, you will be paired with someone and you will like it. Pairing up is not an option, but a necessity. And that is what seems to plague poor Sarah Walters throughout her life (and the life of this novel).

Born in Charleston, South Carolina in what feels like the late 70s/early 80s, Sarah is a hesitant debutante at best. Part of the Charleston Camellias, a prestigious society of ladies, she is expected to become a good Southern woman, following the path laid out for her by generations of previous Camellias. Instead, Sarah follows in the path of her older sister Eloise, and jets up north for college to get away from it all. While this seems like a whole new wonderful world to Sarah, reality sets in, and she finds that a self-directed path is not as easy as she hoped. And despite her desire to get away from the debutante matchmaking, her failed relationships and search for the perfect man dominate her life anyway. It isn’t until a family tragedy brings Sarah home that she begins to see that maybe a life in the South wouldn’t be so terrible after all.

I was drawn to this book by the gorgeous cover, and as a brand new South Carolinian. It wasn’t quite what I’d hoped for, and was unnecessarily complicated by strange shifts in point of view/voice. However, Crouch does give us snippets of unexpected humor sprinkled where they are needed to keep us from spiraling into Sarah’s despair, which helped keep me turning the pages.

1.5 stars

And the moon and the stars and the trees

I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson (2014)

Opening Line: “This is how it all begins. With Zephyr and Fry – reigning neighborhood sociopaths — torpedoing after me and the whole forest floor shaking under my feet as I blast through air, trees, this white-hot panic.”

With just this opening line, you get a sense of the complex, somewhat magical narrative voice of Noah, twin brother to Jude, our other narrator. These two teenagers wind a twisting tale of the years between the ages of 13 and 16. The story is not told chronologically, however, but jumps between Noah’s point-of-view at age 13 and Jude’s perspective at age 16. Once two halves of a whole, by the time of Jude’s story, the twins are barely speaking verbally, not to mention the ax on their twin telecommunication. While it’s unclear why, it is clear that their lives have completely changed following some terrible circumstances surrounding their mother’s death. Secrets were kept, hearts were broken, and futures were altered. Noah, at 13, bound for greatness with his outstanding artistic talent despite his outsider status among his classmates, has completely stopped painting and has become a quiet part of the popular crowd at the public high school by 16. Jude, queen of the parties and jealous of the fact that her brother is the apple of their mother’s eye during Noah’s story, is now a loner hiding under hats and seeking a mentor for her artwork as a part of the program at the fancy arts academy. As each twin tells their tale, we start to see how they overlap and what really happened that fateful day.

Unlike some in the YA canon, this is not a quick read. It’s meaty; 371 pages of meat, to be exact, and at least for me, a lot of it was slow-going. In the last 100 pages, though, it picked right up and I couldn’t put it down. My breakfast cereal waited in the closet, the dog went un-walked (not that the lazy guy minded), and I didn’t get out of bed until it was finished this morning. I love the twists and turns and the trying to figure it out-ness of this one. Also, the language! Like the opening line up there suggests, these two narrators don’t storytell in the most ordinary way, but in somewhat fantastical, round-about voices. Each have their own unique tendencies, but they are cut from the same cloth to be sure, and make the reader work a little harder for their supper. Not a bad thing, in my book.

Another winner for the the YA Bibliobitches book club. 2.5 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.

Hello Rainbow? It’s Me, Emily.

Landline, by Rainbow Rowell (2014)

Do you ever get so absorbed in a book that it feels like you can’t read fast enough? That you find yourself turning the pages quickly, but then turning back to make sure you read everything because you don’t want to lose a single word?

I feel this way every time I read something Rainbow Rowell has written.

And now I’m feeling the creeping Deathly Hallows hollowness that comes with reading the last thing she’s written. Unlike with Harry Potter, I do have hope that there will be another one eventually, but seeing as Landline has a 2014 copyright date, it might be a while.

This one isn’t even my favorite one she’s written. In fact, I didn’t even really like it that much initially. But Rainbow has a knack for making me certain she’s writing about me, even though none of the plots are remotely like my life nor are her characters similar to me in any sort of tangible way.

Take this one. It follows one week in the life of Georgie McCool, a comedy writer for a TV show (think Tina Fey – at least that’s who I pictured through all this) who has maybe wrecked her marriage and isn’t sure what to do about it. And then her mother’s landline phone becomes a magic portal to the past, connecting her to her future husband at the age of 22 when they almost broke up the first time. And she can use this warped time to either repair or dissolve her future marriage. Sound even remotely like me? Not in the least. And yet…

Please, Rainbow, please, write another of my pseudo-memoirs. I’ll be desperately awaiting.

3 stars, because I can’t get enough. (Btw: Fangirl is the best one.)

Addendum: In case I needed further proof of our entwined souls, here’s this.

My debut Debut: A dystopia, duh.

Article 5, by Kristen Simmons (2012)

Two and half months into the new year, and I have finally scratched my first debut author off my list. Only 11 to go. And I have to say, it was a good one start with. Because I think this is one people are going to be talking about.

Ember’s world fits right in with the ever-growing pile of YA dystopias out there. And I don’t know what it is about this genre, but I can’t seem to help but love every single one of these I read. Who cares if they all function around the same basic premise (Sometime after some crushing WWIII event, in what used to be America that is now run by a totalitarian or military government, a scrappy teenage female will have to conquer all sorts of external forces beating her down while simultaneously confronting her internal turmoil caused by a certain male(s) of her past/present), I’ll eat it up anyway. And so do so many other readers out there. Well, here’s another one for your pile. Find and devour accordingly:

Ember Miller lives with her single mom, somewhat under the radar of the Moral Militia, as she affectionately calls the military government. That is until officers of the MM (more officially termed the Federal Bureau of Reformation) knock on her door and drag her mother out of the house and into custody for violating Article 5 of the Moral Statutes (having a babe out of wedlock). Oh, and did I mention that one of the arresting officers was none other than dear old Chase Jennings, former best friend and flame. After this particularly traumatic encounter (all within chapter 1, mind you), Ember is carted off too, crossing state lines to be deposited in a rehabilitation center for girls taken from their homes for similar violations. Needless to say, Ember wants to spend as little time as possible at the center, as her only goal is finding her mother and getting them to safety. Unfortunately, there is little possibility of this without the help of her recent back-stabbing ex-boyfriend.

Say what you want about predictable plot-turns and generic gender roles, I really don’t care. I love a good heart-thumper, and this one fits the bill. The ending leaves plenty of space for what will likely be at least a trilogy, as they all are.

2 stars