Wow, meeting my quota this month was tough. I’m deep into deadline hell with the sequel to AUDACIOUS and also had to contend with two weeks of spring break, with my daughters day camp in the second week being cancelled! The lovely folks at Arts Umbrella saved the day (at least three hours of it) but still. I also had a few few did not finishes in my reading efforts this month. That didn’t help. But I pulled through. By blasting through a few books in the last few days, I not onlu once again made my quota but I also discovered my first five star book of 2013. Let’s start with that.
One book written for adults:
THE SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK by Matthew Quick
I love love LOVE Matthew Quick’s YA books so I’m not at all surprised how delighted I was with THE SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK. On the surface this book was in danger with me. It has some of my literary pet peeves. I know this is weird because I have openly declared my love of broken boys, but normally I’m not a huge fan of broken men (literary or real life). But protagonist Pat Peoples is hard to dislike, for me at least, in part because he actually seems very young. Readers seem to interpret Pat as being mentally ill, and maybe if Matt reads this he can give his thoughts, but I saw Pat as brain injured. I think there are many clues pointing to this not least of which is that his friend Danny, who he met in hospital, clearly is. Well, for me there’s a big difference between brain injured and mentally ill, maybe not that much literally speaking, but narratively speaking. I don’t want to speculate too much on this but for me I think the idea that Pat was brain injured made this story feel new. A lot of literary and mainstream fiction uses mental illness as a device, so much so that it sometimes becomes a deus ex machina in weaker narratives, not so much to solve the conflict, but to create it. By contrast, Pat’s mental state was not the source of the overarching conflict in this complex book, it was something that needed to be handled while the conflict was settle. It complicated things, complicated the puzzle of Pat’s life but wasn’t the whole of it. The other thing that often trips me up in books for adults (I’m less troubled by it in YA and MG books) is a heavy sports motif. Football figures prominently in this novel, but there is very little description of actual play so that helps me because I get bored with that very quickly. But the other thing I sometimes struggle with is when sports are awkwardly manhandled into some kind of metaphor for struggle or growth or whatever. That can be really pretentious. This book doesn’t fall into that trap. In fact it’s lack of pretension is probably why I loved it. Pat’s narration (perhaps because of his brain injury) is very straightforward. There is no awkward and self-conscious literary prose. The voice is very believable for who he is, particularly given the state of his brain. One comment, and I can’t really call this a complaint, but since I needed this book and couldn’t wait, I had to buy it at a bookstore and all they had was the movie tie-in edition. I HATE MOVIE-TIE INS!! Jennifer Lawrence’s name is a big as the author’s on the cover! She didn’t write this book! She was probably in high school while Quick was writing it! So irritating. You’ll note I use the paperback cover in this post. Apart from that I really loved this book and am so glad I read it before seeing the movie, which I also want to see. As I said, 5/5 stars, my first for this year.
One Middle Grade:
CUL, DE SAC KIDS by Alison Acheson
I might be kind of a cheat to call this book middle grade, because it’s really more akin to a very early chapter book. It’s very short (I read it in about 30 minutes) and peppered with black and white illustrations so it’s obviously aimed at a pretty young audience. The author Alison Acheson (who was my prof at UBC) autographed my copy to my daughter who is 8. She read it once and then picked it up and read it again that’s a good sign. There are a few things to recommend this book. One, it’s one of the few kids books I’ve read that deals with the introduction of the step-father into a family in positive way. Many books have well established stepfathers (both good and bad) but often when a new man is coming into a child’s life the story presents it as negative, at least from the child’s point of view. The kids in this story seem genuinely pretty happy with their new dad, so that was kind of nice. Oddly enough, because this is a book for very young readers, I kind of felt like the stepfather’s story was the most interesting. It’s almost like I could read a companion novel written from his point of view, as a childless man joining a family with two kids and being “schooled” by his new neighbors on how to be a good dad. What do you think Alison? I also thought the street hockey and the other outdoor activities that the kids get up to were really great. Overall, this is a quiet but thoughtful book for less sophisticated readers that I think would make great classroom material.
One non fiction:
HOOKED: When Addiction Hits Home by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes
HOOKED is a good demonstration of why non writers shouldn’t write books. While the subject matter (young people dealing with an addicted family member) is interesting and important, the way the stories are told in this is so pedestrian that it takes away from the impact. It’s clear that the people featured in this book wrote their own chapters with only minimal editing ny Shantz-Hilkes. I’m not expecting poetry; an unpretentious voice is appropriate for this material. But I would have liked to be a bit more drawn into each story. They were awkwardly expressed, almost cold and clinical. I think this was a missed opportunity to create a really readable collection on this issue. As it is, it reads almost like a case study textbook. Since this is a book designed for teens a little more thought on how it was put together would have improved it.
One collection of poems:
THE MESSENGER by Stephanie Pippin
Someone please just shoot me now. Nothing against Ms. Pippen but I didn’t relate to a single poem in this collection. I don’t think I understood or saw the point of them at all. Am I just stupid? Should I just give up right now? I don’t think I can face another nine books like this. And this one I read after giving up on two other collections! For god’s sake I’m supposed to be a poet myself. What’s wrong with me? I shall persevere and hope that next month’s poetic offering is more my cup of tea. I don’t have high hopes though.
One “genre” :
HOLD ME CLOSER NECROMANCER by Lish McBride
I met Lish McBride in January at ALA in Seattle. We bonded over our mutual despair over literary fiction and the use of “pants” as an expletive. This month when I realized I was down a genre novel with only less than a week to go, I grabbed this one and plowed through it in two days. SO MUCH FUN. I had a real kind of Douglas Adams feeling as I read this. Not Hitchhiker’s Guide so much as THE LONG DARK TEATIME OF THE SOUL with it’s complicated and sublimely silly plot. McBride’s book is not quite so silly, but it’s at least as complicated and has many of the same rather surreal elements. It’s gorgeously written without being self-consciously clever and the post high school characters are all delightfully directionless. This is what “New Adult” should be if there must be such a thing, rather than a parade of horny girls in college dorms. It’s scary, sexy and clever. The multiple points of view (a mixture of 1st person and 3rd person) and male protagonist lift this “urban paranormal” out of a rather saturated field and into something with more literary worth and more staying power. I’m looking forward to more in this series.
One graphic novel:
PUNK ROCK JESUS by Sean Murphy
I mean, PUNK ROCK JESUS! How could I pass this one up. This is actually a collection of what was five short serialized graphic novels published last year. It’s being published in this omnibus edition on April 9th. I scored a eARC from Edelweiss and boy I’m glad I did. This is one of the few times when I’ve received a eBook to review where I actually have plans to buy the print book when it comes out. I’m not a huge consumer of graphic novels, and I had to read this one off a computer screen, which is never ideal but I just loved this. So subversive, so beautiful, PUNK ROCK JESUS somehow manages to be an indictment of both the media and Christianity, capitalism and science. In fact it shits all over everyone who isn’t a teenage punk rocker, which, while being a sentiment I once shared, as a semi-responsible adult now usually irritates me. But it made perfect sense in this story. The artwork was phenomenal – very graphic and intense, though not being an expert in this form I can’t really compare it to much. I want to read this again. I want to hold it in my hand. I think I’ll give two or three copies as Christmas presents. PUNK ROCK JESUS, people! Why didn’t I think of this?
One pre-20th Century historical:
DAVID by Mary Hoffman
I’ve always had a thing for Michaelangelo’s David and once toyed with the idea of writing something about him myself. So when I saw this on the shelf at the library I picked it up knowing nothing about it. Well I was delighted. This is another book that would do well by being included on lists of “New Adult”. Gabriel, the protagonist and narrator is eighteen years old and trying to make his way in the world away from his family for the first time. The fact that he is the (fictional) milk-brother of the famous sculptor, and the model of the famous sculpture only adds to his NA hero charm. And charming he is. He charms the bloomers of several women in this fast paced and intriguing story of Renaissance Italian society and politics. The historical details in this blend seamlessly with a quite contemporary feeling narrative about political and family alliances, ambition, deception and the temptations that inevitably face beautiful young men on their own for the first time. Gabriel is a complex character, and flawed, but he’s easy to love. 4/5 stars.
One verse novel:
PURPLE DAZE by Sherry Shahan
I appreciate what Shahan tried to do with this book, but in the end I felt that there were just too many voices vying for attention. I find this is a problem with a lot of verse novels that attempt multiple protagonists. While this is a form that lends itself to experimentation, and certainly some verse novels with multiple protagonists work extremely well (many of Ellen Hopkins’s books for example), PURPLE DAZE struggles to express a coherent narrative, instead spending a lot of energy and time creating the moment (the late sixties). I was left with a very unresolved feeling at the end of this. Not in the good way that sometimes happens, wherein questions are left in your head to ponder at the end of a book. Rather I felt that this book ended before it really took off. At the end I knew a lot about the period, about the war and the protests etc, but very little about the characters and their motivations. And I had no sense of where any of them were headed. Some lovely verse in this and interesting historical detail but a bit disappointing overall.
I’ve learned some reading lessons this month. I’ve learned that a lot of adult romance literature is absolute shit. I’ve learned that a lot of poetry is unreadable gobbledygook. I’ve just learned how to spell “gobbledygook”. See you next month.