Tag Archives: YA

Book Review: Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian (3/5)

17 Sep

If you haven’t read one of my Chris Bohjalian book reviews before, get ready. I’m a big fan of his. He pulls on my heartstrings in ways I didn’t think were possible and I like to tweet him. So when I heard he was coming out with a YA book, I was intrigued. Unfortunately, I think I’ll stick to his adult fiction from now on.

Cover image via Goodreads

Cover image via Goodreads

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian

Summary from Goodreads:

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is the story of Emily Shepard, a homeless teen living in an igloo made of ice and trash bags filled with frozen leaves. Half a year earlier, a nuclear plant in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom had experienced a cataclysmic meltdown, and both of Emily’s parents were killed. Devastatingly, her father was in charge of the plant, and the meltdown may have been his fault. Was he drunk when it happened? Thousands of people are forced to flee their homes in the Kingdom; rivers and forests are destroyed; and Emily feels certain that, as the daughter of the most hated man in America, she is in danger. So instead of following the social workers and her classmates after the meltdown, Emily takes off on her own for Burlington, where she survives by stealing, sleeping on the floor of a drug dealer’s apartment, and inventing a new identity for herself – an identity inspired by her favorite poet, Emily Dickinson. When Emily befriends a young homeless boy named Cameron, she protects him with a ferocity she didn’t know she had. But she still can’t outrun her past, can’t escape her grief, can’t hide forever – and so she comes up with the only plan that she can.

1,000,000 points for originality. It was interesting to hear Bohjalian’s take on what would happen with a complete nuclear meltdown in the modern US. It’s something I’d never considered before. I liked that he used someone who was affected by the disaster in an unusual way. Most people lost their houses while Emily lost her entire family. What bothered me was that Emily’s story was very mature. She went through a lot of things a 16-year-old shouldn’t have to think about. And she justified a lot of things no human should ever undergo or see. I felt a lot of this was left open to the reader to interpret and I didn’t feel this was 100% appropriate for a YA book. At the end of the book, you see Emily keeping her razor close by for comfort, implying that cutting is comforting and not something a strong character could overcome. After seeing her come through so much, I would have liked to see her defeat her vices.

Growing up, I knew people who had some of Emily’s issues, but never all of them at once. I knew people who cut, people who took prescription drugs, people who slept around, and people who ran away from home. But wrapping them up into one person was intense. I’m not sure she would have survived it all. I was confused by her protective nature with Cameron. She obviously had a motherly instinct to help him, but it hadn’t kicked in before and she wasn’t taking good care of herself at the same time. Granted, it was better, but she still had her razor and given the chance, might have used. Maybe not, I could be wrong. Anyway, I usually associate an urge like that with a woman who’s lost a child, not a sixteen-year-old. That confused me a bit.

Truthfully, I didn’t ‘like’ any of the characters. None of them was someone I’d want to be friends with or would acknowledge on the street. Maybe Cameron because I felt bad for him, but he was a bit flat as a character to me. We didn’t get too much of his personality in the book. There were a lot of small side characters that showed up for a page or two that ended up disappearing that I liked, but no one who stuck around.

When I studied abroad, there were things about home that I missed. Small things, like my pillow and food from certain restaurants, but big things, too, like my parents and friends. Emily misses these things, too, but she can never go back to them. And when she finally tries to, nothing is the same. The people are gone, the buildings are empty. I would have momentary fears while I was in the UK that everything would be gone when I got back, but Emily lived that nightmare.

Me and Chris Bohjalian

Me and Chris Bohjalian

I was relieved when Emily started getting her act together at the end. Seeing her try to hold a job and buying groceries was reassuring that everything was going to be okay. I was so hopefully when she started asking other people for help. I guess if things hadn’t gone south, she might have made it. I like to think so, anyway.

The non-linear plotline bothered me the most. I was confused as to the order of things and when Emily was with certain people and if X had happened already or if that was after the part I was listening to and where Y fit into this line. Emily kept it somewhat straight by dividing time into BC (Before Cameron) and AC (After Cameron) but I still found things confusing within these parts.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Grace Blewer, Bohjalian’s daughter. I liked this a lot because I think Bohjalian was thinking of Grace a lot while he was writing. She’s the 16-year-old he’s known most intimately and during the interview at the end of the recording, he admits he asked Grace for help with vocabulary from time to time, so it was literally her words she was reading. Blewer is a trained actress and did a good job narrating Emily.

I thought the message in this book was a little too obscure. I think Emily was so far gone that she thought there was no forgiveness yet found out she was wrong. That was the one message I got that I liked; we can have a second chance if we ask for it. She gave up on herself too quickly and gave up again when Cameron got sick.

Writer’s Takeaway: My biggest issue with this book was the maturity of the content and the age of the protagonist. It felt weird to be reading about what Emily went through and know it was a 16-year-old and not someone in their mid-twenties. Not that being in your mid-twenties makes any of that more acceptable, but it would make it feel a little less ‘weird’ to read. I think it’s a matter of matching the book with the right audience. It didn’t feel like a YA book to me, but it was directed to a YA audience.

 

A great concept that didn’t work for me for some unknown reason. Three out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
Review: Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian | Pathologically Literate
Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian | No Charge Bookbunch

Book Review: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (4/5)

26 Feb

A well written YA book is a breath of fresh air for me. I’ve read a lot of heavy adult fiction lately and having something light, conversational and a bit romantic is great to cleanse all the sadness. Eleanor & Park came at the perfect time for that and I flew through this wonderful story. Rowell is quickly becoming a favorite author.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Summary from Goodreads:

Two misfits.
One extraordinary love.

Eleanor… Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough…Eleanor.

Park… He knows she’ll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punch line. There’s a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises…Park.

Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.

How does Rowell write characters that are so much like me and every other person who reads her books? Honestly, I see myself in Eleanor and Park and I know I’m not the only one saying that. We’re all a bit red-headed misfit and half-Korean punk. I kept reading as fast as I could to see if the characters would have the ending I thought they deserved. In some ways I was happy with it, but in other ways I was disappointed. (SPOILERS FOR THE REST OF THIS PARAGRAPH) I wanted more from the ending, but that’s not how Rowell writes. I know what I’m supposed to think the three words were, “I love you.” By I’m a cynic. What if they were “Forget about me?” Do we really know? I wanted something more conclusive.

Of her books, I think Attachments had the most conclusive ending and Fangirl had the most vague. This sat in the middle but on the Fangirl end of the spectrum.

I love Rowell’s characters. Almost as much as I love John Green’s. Well, maybe more. I think Rowell taps into that book-nerd past many readers share and makes you remember the beauty of it. I loved that they read Alan Moore comics together. I liked that they listened to U2. It was cool and nerdy all at once.

I liked Park best. Eleanor was too much like me in some ways. It’s the parts of me I didn’t like: over-analytical, concerned about appearance, quick to anger. But Park was cool, some things I wanted to be: bold, independent, strong. They were both likable but if I had to pick one, the choice is easy. Plus, who didn’t want an eyeliner-wearing comic-dork ninja for a boyfriend at 16? I know I did.

Eleanor’s social situation reminded me of grade school. Luckily, I couldn’t relate to her home life, but dreading gym class, being friends with people because they were nice to you, being shunned by the ‘cool’ kids and dressing in cheap clothes reminded me of myself. I never wanted to ‘fit in’ and do the ‘cool’ things, much like Eleanor. I had my friends and we were happy. It was cool to see a character who was the same way.

Rainbow Rowell Image via the author's website

Rainbow Rowell
Image via the author’s website

I loved the date that Eleanor and Park went on together. It was so reminiscent of dating in high school, the freedom of a drivers’ license. I liked Eleanor exploring a city she lived in for the first time and how much Park wanted to show it to her. She was finally awarded some level of freedom and the ability to enjoy the world around her. It was really beautiful.

It was hard to read about Eleanor feeling accepted by Park’s family because I’ve had similar problems. My in-laws express their affection in very different ways than my parents always have and even after five years of being around them, I still don’t think they like me and have trouble figuring out if they’re upset. It hit really close to home to see Eleanor struggle with this and I understood what she was feeling very intensely. I think going into someone else’s home for the first time is uncomfortable no matter the circumstances. We all expect the world around us to work the same way but within our personal sanctuaries, we have rules. For example, we are a lid-closed toilet household. If I go somewhere and the lid is up (we won’t even go to the seat being up), I get really uncomfortable. They’ve broken my rule but it’s their house. This is how I saw Eleanor feeling in Park’s house.

I listened to the Listening Library edition of this book narrated by Rebecca Lowman and Sunil Malhotra for Eleanor and Park respectfully. I think Lowman did an amazing job and I adored her parts of the story. She gave Eleanor a strong voice and didn’t make Park sound too feminine. Malhotra did a good job, but there were some parts of his narration I wasn’t a big fan of. His voice for Eleanor was really squeaky and annoying and I didn’t think it fit her character. His female characters in general feel a bit flat to me, except for Park’s mom. I think he did a great job of bringing her to life.

As someone who met her husband at age 14, it’s hard for me to ignore the message of this book. You can fall in love at 16. You can fall in love any time. As much as you try to run away from it, it can chase you even if you’re in Minnesota. I thought the way they talked to each other was very real and I liked the slow development of the relationship. They were scared of what they felt for each other, like Romeo and Juliet. (Yes, I caught the parallelism. It was awesome.) Society shouldn’t dismiss people who get married young or who marry their high school sweethearts as naive or stupid. We can meet people when we’re young who we want to keep with us forever and that should be embraced.

Writer’s Takeaway: I adored the narrators and their distinct ways of thinking. I also think Rowell did a great job of bouncing back and forth between the two to keep the story flowing. I liked the short little parts about what the two were thinking while they were together, that was adorable. Great way to pace the book.

Overall really enjoyable and well-developed characters. Four out of Five Stars.

This book fulfills the 1980-1999 time period of the When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
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A Chat with Rainbow Rowell about Love and Censorship | The Toast

Book Review: Looking for Alaska by John Green (4/5). “He just John-Greened me!”

4 Sep

I’m not sure if anything I say here hasn’t been said before. And I can’t promise there will be no spoilers, because I think it will be impossible to talk about this book without giving away the big reveal. Sorry. So I guess, spoilers? A lot of them?

Cover image via Goodreads.com

Cover image via Goodreads.com

Looking for Alaska by John Green

Miles Halter doesn’t fit in at his Florida High School and he can’t help thinking there’s something bigger out there waiting for him. So he decides to move to Alabama and attend the boarding school his father went to. There he befriends his roommate, The Colonel, the beautiful Alaska Young, Takumi, and Lara. Together they try to out-prank the ‘Weekend Warriors,’ (rich kids from Birmingham).

But that’s all before.

[Where the spoilers begin]

After, they will never be the same. Alaska dies suddenly in a car accident and Miles and the Colonel feel responsible. But there are so many questions. Where was she going? Why did she think she needed to leave so suddenly in the middle of the night when she was too drunk to drive? Did she crash on purpose? What were her last words?

So many feelings! I laughed, felt uncomfortable listening to it with someone in the car, got angry, wanted to cry but couldn’t while driving, sympathized, smiled, and everything in between. I was scheming how to get back at the Warriors and later was trying to figure out the mystery of Alaska’s death right along with Miles and the Colonel. I was sucked in. Ultimately, I think the mystery was a little too much and didn’t fit as well with the first half of the story, which was my favorite. That’s the only reason I didn’t give it a full 5/5.

John Green must have a time machine in his house where he can return to his teen years and take notes on what it was like to be a teenager again. Even as a young 20-something, I still struggle to write a teen mind. But when I pick up Green, I’m brought right back to high school and wanting to fit in while wanting to be myself. I don’t know how he does it, but it’s amazing.

The Colonel was my favorite character. I liked that he hid his intelligence but didn’t deny it and I adored his love for his mother. I was sad that he felt any shame, but with the rich Birmingham kids around, it make sense. I adored how loyal he was to his friends and that he had a very snarky side to him. Was there anything not to love?

I sympathized with Lara the most. She was always a little on the outside, even with her friends, and I felt that a bit in high school. Even with my friends, I wasn’t ‘in’ like others were. She was such a big person to forgive Miles like she did and I loved her even more for that.

Image via mental_floss

John Green
Image via mental_floss

As if it needed to be said, my favorite part was the stripper at the end. If you read this book and didn’t love that, we should talk. It was such a perfect prank and it was a great tribute to Alaska. Reading John Green’s website, it seems that it was based slightly off of a prank performed at his boarding school.

I thought the book dragged a bit at the end. I understood wanting to know what why and how, but I think it could have been trimmed a bit. The build up to the event was so great, starting from the first words, telling us it was ‘before’ and at some point, it would be ‘after.’ And ‘before’ seemed to race along like a white water river while after trudged like a (beautiful albeit) slow elephant. I wish it had been more even.

I struggled thinking of themes. Friendship? Yes, but also being yourself and when it’s okay to give somethings up and what to stay strong on. In the end, I Googled it to help guide my discussion. And I almost smacked myself because the theme I should talk about now seems so obvious; death and suffering.

Alaska died, but she didn’t suffer from it. Miles lived, but he suffers not knowing why his friend died. Throughout the book, the characters are dealing with suffering in one way or another; being unhappy in a relationship, wanting to start over, dealing with guilt, adjusting to a new place, being punished, being pranked, etc. Anything that could bring them down did and they suffered. But when they were faced with the ultimate suffering, death, they had to react in a different way. They couldn’t get even with this suffering, or run away from it or shrug it off; it had to be faced head on; straight and fast. As Alaska said, that’s the only way out of the labyrinth.

Writer’s Takeaway: John Green captures our hearts because of his characters. If you have another thing you love about him, fine, but I bet his characters is high on that list. They are so deep; they have personalities, quirks, dislikes, hobbies, etc. They’re like the people we know from high school and are each so unique and different that it’s mind-blowing. I always strive to make my characters as deep as Green does.

Overall, a wonderful, solid book. Four out of Five stars.

This book fulfills ‘Alabama’ for my Where Are You Reading? Challenge.

Reminder! If you want to join in my next Read Along event, check out this post for details and send me an email to sign up!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
Book Review: Looking for Alaska by John Green (SPOILERS) | Too Many Posts
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Looking for Alaska by John Green (Review) | YABOOKERS
BOOK REVIEW: Looking for Alaska by John Green | Saz and Stuff