Friday, November 28, 2014

THE GEOGRAPHY OF YOU AND ME


Review of THE GEOGRAPHY OF YOU AND ME by JENNIFER E. SMITH

GEOGRAPHY OF YOU AND ME is a sweet, smart young adult romance about when the right person is in the wrong place. Teenagers Lucy and Owen meet on a stopped elevator during a citywide blackout. Once free, they spend an unlikely, unexpected, and unforgettable night together. Before they even have a chance to explore the possibility of a relationship, life pulls them in different directions with Lucy moving to Europe and Owen embarking on a road trip with his father. Time ticks by as Lucy and Owen carry on with their separate lives, date other people, and barely keep in touch. Neither forgets about the other, though. Neither stops wondering and imagining.  

I love a good romance...but I’m a very critical romance reader. For starters, I can’t care about a relationship until I care about both characters as individuals. Lucy and Owen are both likable leads, hailing from very different backgrounds and yet finding that common ground. Owen’s mother recently died. Now Owen and his father are barely scraping by, both financially and emotionally. Lucy, on the other hand, has everything she could ever want financially, but her rich life is rather lonely. Her parents travel constantly, never taking her with them. I related to Lucy especially, since she’s a bookworm. I appreciated Smith’s portrayal of an introverted bibliophile. Lucy isn’t a social outcast; she chooses books and quiet over parties and popularity.

Though I found a few metaphors distractingly cheesy, for the most part I loved the writing. Smith crafts distinct, realistic voices for each character. Both dialogue and inner monologue feel natural whether we’re following Lucy or Owen. Also, while they’re mature teenagers, Lucy and Owen definitely feel young: uncertain what they want or what life has in store for them, brimming with emotions, and quick to act or speak on those emotions.

The ending fell a little short of what I wanted, but I think Smith set quite the challenge for herself with this type of story. Young adult romances are particularly difficult, because authors struggle finding balance between that nice happily-ever-after feeling and “settling” their characters too young. Though not quite perfection, I think Smith found a fulfilling spot between frustratingly lacking closure and tying everything up too neatly.

Friday, November 21, 2014

WE WERE LIARS


Review of WE WERE LIARS by E. LOCKHART
(review based on an advance reading copy)

Recently I did a post about rating books and why I’m not particularly fond of simple 1-5 star systems, etc. WE WERE LIARS puts me in mind of yet another reason that I don’t thinks stars adequately summarize your reaction to a book: sometimes your rating fluctuates over the course of reading. How do you average that? After finishing WE WERE LIARS I would give it 5 out of 5 stars, but up until page 150 (out of 225) I would have given it only 2 or maybe 3.

WE WERE LIARS rewards you well if you stick with it, but - for me at least - wasn’t initially engaging. Numerous people raved, fanatically raved, about WE WERE LIARS to me (which might have set me up with overhyped expectations), but I found the book quite unexceptional until around page 150. (That’s two thirds of the way through the 225 page book.)

I went into WE WERE LIARS knowing next to nothing about the premise. Well, the marketing (including the blurb on back) doesn’t tell you much. In truth, this novel is probably a little more suspense orientated than my tastes run. I like to know what happened, because I care more about how the characters react. For the first two thirds, WE WERE LIARS focuses mostly on the mystery of not knowing what happened and it’s no coincidence that I only started investing after the big reveal.

So here’s how I would describe the premise: This story follows the teenager Cady (short for Cadence), and her rich, beautiful fa├žade of a family. Every summer the Sinclairs gather on their private island where Cady soaks up the company of her beloved cousins Mirren and Johnny, and steadily falls in love with their childhood family friend Gat. Except that was the past. Something happened one summer. Something that changed everything. All Cady knows is that something bad happened, she hit her head, and now she remembers very little from that summer at all, especially not whatever she’s sure she needs to remember. The first 150 pages of the book focus on introducing these characters and Cady’s search for answers. Honestly, I felt like most of that could have been cut.

Then Cady remembers, layer by layer, and suddenly I understood why people rave about this book. All that material I thought could have been cut immediately takes on new meaning with each additional memory. (I’m not one for re-reading books, but this is probably a good one to go back and re-read right away after finishing.) Themes that seemed perhaps underdeveloped snap into sharp focus. I connected both emotionally and intellectually and I kept turning over the story in mind after finishing the book.

WE WERE LIARS is incredibly worthy of discussion, so I wish I could say more, but - as the story is so slow to reveal anything - it would be giving away too much to even start talking themes or dropping hints by my choice of adjectives. Instead I’ll repeat that WE WERE LIARS well rewards those who stick with it.

Friday, November 14, 2014

WHAT'S THE NUMBER FOR 911?

Review of WHAT’S THE NUMBER FOR 911?: AMERICA’S WACKIEST 911 CALLS by LELAND GREGORY

Along the same lines as the Darwin awards, this book is perfect for comedy fans who enjoy laughing at the stupidity of others. Like, for example, the fleeing criminal who repeatedly called 911 during his high-speed chase so he could demand the operator have the police stop chasing him.

There’s a lot of overlap when it comes to categorizing these anecdotes. Some quick labels immediately pop to mind: crazy, high, unreasonable, and stupid. Now I don’t find stories about someone who obviously isn’t in their right mind doing something ridiculous particularly funny - too sad if you really think about it. And instances where someone is high are boring in my opinion, because, well, that’s what happens when you’re high - so no surprise. Then there are the unreasonable and or plain stupid 911 calls and, yeah, I find both of those types pretty amusing. Unreasonable like the woman who calls to say a snake bit her and asks the operator if the snake is poisonous; she doesn’t provide any actual description about the snake but grows increasingly frustrated that the operator can’t just tell her if it’s poisonous or not already. And stupid like the woman who calls in a biohazard team when she sets her mail down on her kitchen table and a letter promptly turns from yellow to brown. Turns out that’s what happens when you put a letter in coffee.

There’s also a fair number of people who need to hear the definition of “emergency”. Such as the person who called 911 when someone took a bite out of her sandwich. Or another man whose false teeth don’t quite fit, so he calls 911 for some assistance. Some people clearly think 911 is equivalent to 411, just another information service. Like the woman who calls 911 to ask when the fourth of July parade will start or the man who calls for some advice on navigating around dead stop traffic. More amusing, though, are those who think 911 is some kind of general public service for anyone and anything. One man called when he saw a snow plow in town to ask 911 to send the snow plow over to his house. Another couple called 911 to request fresh towels for their hotel room.

While reading is usually a solitary hobby, these kinds of books are fun to flip through with someone else. In all seriousness, though, I now have the utmost respect for 911 operators.


Friday, November 7, 2014

The Magic Dress Complex

 
Today I want to discuss a personal pet peeve in stories (both literary and on screen): what I’m going to call The Magic Dress Complex. This complex advances the idea that personal growth for a woman comes from the outside. The Magic Dress Complex is when a heroine’s proactive steps for self-improvement consist primarily of finding the perfect dress (or outfit) for a special occasion or perhaps embarking on some grand full body makeover.

If you’ve seen movies, if you read, if you watch television, then I’m certain you’ve encountered The Magic Dress Complex. Think of all the plots that feature a grand makeover montage or pages upon pages of detail about a heroine’s new look. She gets the latest, cutting edge hairstyle. She finally puts on makeup. She has a manicure and a pedicure. If it’s a longer timeframe, maybe she hits the gym or devotedly diets until she slims down and firms up. She buys trendy, flattering new clothes. Oh, and shoes. What is a magic dress without magic shoes?

Now our heroine looks different, which means she is different. Now she can do what she couldn’t before. Now she will get everything she ever wanted.  The Magic Dress Complex implies that if a woman can sculpt herself into physical perfection then the rest of her life will fall into place. The Magic Dress Complex also implies that this change in appearance is the woman’s greatest accomplishment. (Emphasized by how these makeover sequences usually fall extremely close to, if not within, the story’s climax.)

I won’t dismiss the concept that an outward change can promote an internal one. Maybe a woman cuts her hair, because she’s feeling brave enough to take a risk. Her new hairstyle reminds her of her own bravery and bolsters her confidence. If she earns accolades she never did before, let’s say it’s her newfound confidence rather than the hair.

However, then look at the sheer number of these magical makeovers. And, yes, we do see them for men, too, but only a fraction as frequently. My issue isn’t with a physical difference (even one as simple as new clothes) empowering a woman; it’s how prevalent this magical makeover is as a woman’s gateway to discovering herself.  

The simple fact is that I want to see as many stories as possible about women who make a big change in their life...but it’s not their hair.