Books read in January 2014.

I had a few gift certificates to the Title Wave Bookstore, which is the place where the library sells the books it has culled from the catalog.  Books are cheap, most are $1.50 (for hardback!) and I had fifteen dollars of credit, so I came home with large stack.  Nearly all of them were YA.  I’m not sure if the publishers went on a books-about-death/dying/dead people streak or I just managed to pick up every single one of them, but this month featured a lot of grief and death.  Which was fine by me, as I think ramifications of death are worth exploring.  I also finished the last of the reading for the Mock-Printz Workshop and began the reading of all the books which won awards which I have not yet read.

Top three books this month:
Two Boys Kissing
Sex and Violence
Sisterland

Picture/Beginning Chapter Books
The Meanest Birthday Girl
Josh Schneider
Read for librarian book group.
Beginning chapter book that is also a cautionary tale.  Funny.

Dream Animals
Emily Winfield Martin
Read for librarian book group
Dreamy illustrations of the modern-version-of-50s-type-illustration.

The Dark
Lemony Snickett
Why shouldn’t the Dark get his own book?  Funny and clever.

YA Books
If You Find Me
Emily Murdoch
I was all in due to the well-drawn characters and the basic premise of the plot. I also thought seeing the exploration of the world after being absent 10 years was done quite well. It was compulsively readable.  However, there were a few too many plot holes nagging at me for this to be a very good book.

Read on for SPOILERS and my quibbling with plot holes.
Media.
I find it hard to believe that two missing girls (or one missing girl and one unknown girl, because the second was born there) could be recovered from the woods and not a single media outlet would catch wind of this.  Here in Portland, Oregon, in real life, a man and his daughter were found living in a park and it was all over the news for some time.  So why did no one seem to be aware of this bigger story in Tennessee?
Birth.  
Where did the younger sister’s birth happen?  Did her mother give birth at the site?  In a hospital?
Small Town.  
This is a town small enough that someone invites the entire sophomore class to her birthday party and yet no one knows that these girls have been living in the woods?  Extremely unlikely.  Especially because the father has been in the media now and then over the years looking for his lost daughter.  When the daughter shows up, towing a younger sister, was not anyone in town interested to hear where she had been?
Police.
The mother has not only stolen her daughter from her ex-husband who had full custody, she has hidden her away for a decade.  And yet no one seems to be looking for her?  Why were charges not filed?
Park Rangers
Only a few hikers came across them over the years?  I’m pretty sure a park ranger would have stumbled across them at some point, especially since they weren’t camping in a designated space.  And hikers can tell the difference between someone camping and someone living.  They would have reported it.
The Camper
Supposedly it was going to be towed, but it never is and then becomes a burned out shell?  They would have had that campsite cleaned up within a week, just to keep the rest of the meth-heads out.
What does her father do for a living?
I really hate it when little details like this are missed.  He’s not a farmer, because he states that the farm is a hobby farm, but he makes enough money to have a big house and property and various farm animals and a wife who doesn’t have to work.  So what does he do for a living?

The Future of Us
Jay Asher & Carolyn Mackler
Two teenagers in 1996 install AOL onto a computer and suddenly can see their Facebook profiles in 2011.  Interesting premise, which played out in a so-so way.  I found the constant 1996 references to be a bit too twee, but they might be fun for someone who was born in 1996.

A Corner of White
Jacklyn Moriarty
Ever since the Ashbury/Brookfield series, I’m a fan of Ms. Moriarty, so I was all-in for this.  And a good thing, too because it took a bit to get really rolling.  Part of the book is set in modern-day Cambridge, England and part of it is set in the alternate world Kingdom of Cello.  The worlds are clearly labeled, but at first I had trouble understanding who went with where and why.  Once that was squared away I enjoyed myself and I’m interested to see where the next book sends us.

Winter Town
Stephen Emond
Evan and Lucy meet up every winter in Evan’s town (and Lucy’s former town) when Lucy comes to visit her dad for Christmas.  This winter Lucy seems different to Evan, but he doesn’t know why.  The book is told in two parts, first Evan’s and the Lucy’s.  I found the transition rather jarring.  Other than that, this was a great book, chock full of fun illustrations, also done by the author.  Which begs the question, why do grown up books not have illustrations any more?  I can recall reading a goodly amount of books published in the early part  of the last century that came with small illustrations.  It would be nice to have that again.  Anyway.  Great contrast between the lives of the two main characters and an overall good book.

YA Books with death
Dead mother:
Shakespeare Makes the Playoffs.
Ron Koertge
Middle school boy who likes baseball (hence “makes the playoffs”) and poetry (hence the nickname “Shakespeare”) has to make a decision between the girlfriend he has and the girl he meets at a poetry reading.  Manages to capture nuances of middle school while being entirely written in verse, from the main character’s perspective.  Loved it!

Dead main character:
The Catastrophic History of You and Me
Jess Rothenberg
Main character dies (heart breaks in two pieces when her boyfriend tells her he doesn’t love her) and goes to the afterlife, which is a pizza place where a cute Tom-Cruise-in-Top-Gun-type guy hangs out.  Main character spends a lot of time scheming to get back at ex-boyfriend and subsequently trying rescue her family from their post-death misery/grief.  I’m a fan of books that imagine the afterlife, so it was interesting from that angle, but main character was wound a bit too tight for me and got on my nerves, though she probably would not have if I were still a teenager.  I read the whole thing and found the plot sufficiently intricate and interesting. If only that main character hadn’t have bugged me so much (much as many people feel about the actress who plays Buffy) I would have actually liked the book.

Dead family members and neighbors:
The Beginning of After
Jennifer Castle
Laurel’s parents and younger brother die in a car crash that also kills the neighbor boy’s mother and leaves his father (the driver of the car) in a coma. We spend time with Laurel and her grief.  I enjoyed this book because Laurel’s grief was incredibly constant and undramatic (probably like that kind of grief actually is: persistent and boring in its pain) and she never really “acted out” in a way that would be easy to plot, but probably less truthful.  Sure, a lot of kids deal with untimely death by drinking/drugging/sexing their way past their pain, but I bet a lot more just keep on keeping on.  This was well written and heartbreaking, in a satisfying, cathartic way.

Dead mother (who died when the main character was 11, six years before the book begins, but whose death is still affecting his life):
Sex and Violence
Carrie Mesrobian
Teenage boy Evan gets brutally beaten for messing around with a girl at his boarding school, so his father moves the both of them back to the Minnesota lake house that was his (now dead) mother’s.  Even spends the summer healing physically and emotionally, making forays into friendship and tentatively investigating relationships.  What made this book excellent was the spot-on boy voice, and the many different settings the author creates.  And how does she manage to handle so many different characters?  It’s also snortingly amusing throughout.  These teenagers drink and drug and sleep around, not to mention swear a lot, but if you are okay with that, read on!  A short excerpt: “Baker grinned and I felt like maybe the weirdness from the summer kitchen had passed and we could get back to our regular setting of me just secretly liking her while dicking someone else and her just being supersmart and unavailable while smelling delicious.”

Quite Excellent!

Dead mother:
The Beginners Guide to Living
Lia Hills
Rounding out our month of dead people, seventeen-year-old Will’s mother was killed unexpectedly and he deals with the loss by studying philosophers and having sex.  I find this to be not the worst combo one could come up with.  I thought the depiction of grief was pretty accurate and the book well written.

Dead narrators:
Two Boys Kissing
David Levithan
“Remember what it was like to have sex and not worry about AIDS?” a friend asked me once in the early 2000s

“Um, no.” I replied.

She was six years older than me, which meant she had a few years of AIDS-free screwing around before even straight people got worried.  I started becoming aware there was such a thing as sex just as Rock Hudson died in 1985 and for years afterward, I saw a parade of sickly dying men succumb to the disease. I knew none of them personally.  There were no gay people in my life then, no uncles, no neighbors.  But I knew who Rock Hudson was, had seen his movies.  I loved Queen and mourned Freddy Mercury’s death my junior year of high school.  I teared up seeing the dedication to Howard Ashman at the end of the movie Beauty and the Beast: “To our friend Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul, we will be forever grateful.”  My adolescence was spent watching the politics of drug research and approval, the colorful mourning of the AIDS quilt, seeing so much hopelessness, fear, anger, sadness, and dying.

This book is the story of two boys kissing, of two other boys’ life as a couple, of two more boys finding each other, of a boy in crisis.  But this book is narrated by the collective whole of the gay men who have died before all the boys in this book. “If you are a teenager now, it is unlikely that you knew us well.  We are your shadow uncles, your angel godfathers, your mother’s or your grandmother’s best friend from college, the author of that book you found in the gay section of the library.  We are characters in a Tony Kushner play, or names on a quilt that rarely gets taken out anymore.  We are ghosts of the remaining older generation.  You know some of our songs.”

The stories of the living boys are beautiful, because youth and love are beautiful.  That their stories aren’t any longer hidden has to be one of my favorite things about the world we live in today.  The stories of the living are wonderful, and the collective narration is what makes the book sing.  It left me both happy and teary through the novel.  Thank god the dying has slowed.  Thank god people can love who they love.

Grownup Books
The History of Love
Nicole Krauss
Beautifully written, I fell in love with the two main characters.  I wanted it to last longer than it did.
And Goodreads tells me I already read this in 2008.  Ay carumba!  That was a good review I wrote though.  I’ll copy it here:
Most novels I read are stories. That is, they have characters and a plot and plot devices and everything gets wrapped up in the end. They are sort of like real life, but not really. Real life never really wraps up as neatly as novels. You meet the guy, you find each other and pledge love and at the place where the novel of your life would end there comes a whole life of dishes that need to be done and bills to be paid and work to go to. Even on gray rainy days.

I loved this book because it was a slice of life. In real life people may never know what happened to this or that dropped plot line in their life. They may know each other. They may have said goodbye forever only to discover each other, by chance decades later. They may have a chance meeting with a stranger that connects dots for them. Or maybe everything is murky.

I loved this book because Leo Gursky, the character we meet first, is such a force of nature. An old man, retired locksmith in New York City, never married, who carries a note in his wallet explaining he has no family and where to bury him. Seeing the world through his eyes is a reason to read fiction.

Other characters were also wonderful. I can’t say enough about this book. I don’t even resent that someone the same age as me could create such a perfect thing. Read it

As You Like It.
Wm. Shakespeare
The analysis of this book insists that not much happens for most of the forest scenes, but I found myself enjoying this much more than say, Anthony and Cleopatra, which had things happen in every scene, but they weren’t things I much cared about.

Slice of Moon
Kim Dower
Reviewing poetry is hard.  Let’s just say I liked the poems.

Sisterland
Curtis Sittenfeld
It’s fun to read an author’s words as she produces them over the years and then guess at how the progression of the author’s life is affecting her writing.  Judging from the content of this book, I think Curtis Sittenfeld must now have children in her life.  There were a lot of childcare scenes in this that have not been present in previous novels.  This is an observation, not a criticism.

In this book, twin sisters, Violet and Daisy (who changes her name to Kate when she goes to college) have senses, meaning they can see the future, or know things about people.  Violet embraces the senses, Kate rejects them.  Sittenfeld’s grand prose takes us through the lives of Vi and Kate, jumping back and forth from birth to present day when Kate has two children, a husband and a happy home life and Vi is a local St. Louis psychic who is contemplating dating a lesbian.  The plot hinges on Vi’s vision of a tremendous earthquake, which she alerts the press about and then becomes a media sensation.  Meanwhile Kate attempts to skirt the spotlight, look out for her sister and manage her own life.  It’s just as engrossing as Sittenfeld’s other novels and the end particularly grabbed me.  In fact, I would like to discuss. Overall, another tip-top entry.

I mean really, read this paragraph and tell me she’s not fabulous:
“Our windows were open, and the radio had been playing continuously–not one but two Billy Joel songs had come on during our drive–and the air was dense with the humidity of a midwestern summer, weather that even then made me homesick, though it was hard to say for what.  Maybe my homesickness was a form of prescience because when I look back, it’s the circumstances of this very car ride that I recognize as irretrievable: the experience of driving nowhere in particular with my sister, both of us seventeen years old, the open windows causing our hair to blow wildly; that feeling of being unencumbered; that confidence that our futures would unfold the way we wanted them to and our real lives were just beginning.”

General grumbling about the cover.  I’m good with the two girls on the front.  But why make them have different colored eyes, if the eye color of the twins in the novel is never mentioned?  It was incredibly distracting.

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