Monday, April 20, 2015

Here by Richard McGuire

Here, by Richard McGuire, smells really good.

Okay, let me rephrase that. You know when you find a book that has such high quality paper that it smells like every dream and aspiration you've ever had? I would probably live with my face inside of these books if could do it without people calling me crazy. I actually took this book to school and made everybody smell it. So if for no other reason, get this book so you can smell it. It's reason enough.

Fine. It doesn't just smell good. It's one of this books that is not just a read--it's an experience. Because Here is about humans. The things that humans do everyday. It's a graphic work of art set in one room over the course of our past--and our future. It shows snippets of the daily lives of people that could be you or me--things like picking up a book or admonishing an elderly father for needing so much help. Interaction: the only thing that lets someone point at and animal and a human and differentiate between the two.

This plotline could turn out to be extremely boring. However, McGuire has managed to do the opposite. What makes this book so beautiful is the fact that it gives you a picture if the longevity of humans and the patterns of our existence, but in the same image showas our complete and total brevity in the overall scheme of things.

Here is a "see it and believe it" (and then smell it) kind of book. Trying to explain a book like this is like showing people a recreation of the Mona Lisa--you can marvel at the imitation, but it's nothing compared to the real thing. The only way to experience Here is to read it. And then you can smell it! Everybody wins.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

Scott Westerfeld is an accomplished and talented author, having published the Uglies series, as well as the Leviathan series, both great books for Young Adults. He's also published many other books, a full list of which you can see here. With his new book Afterworlds (Simon Pulse, September 2014), he decided to go in a slightly different direction--a half paranormal, half contemporary Young Adult book. I don't really   think that it worked out.

I say "half paranormal, half contemporary" because with this book, Westerfeld decided to write two stories in alternating chapters--one tale follows the journey of teenager Darcy Patel: a young girl who wrote her novel, Afterworlds, in 30 days during NaNoWriMo and managed to be signed by a publisher. She travels to New York and discovers the world of publishing--the whole "behind-the-scenes" of books. The other story is literally the one she's writing: her paranormal romance book Afterworlds. This book is about a girl named Lizzie who travels to the underworld after a near-death experience and then slowly starts turning into an escort of the dead, all the while falling in love with the lord of death. 

The tagline for this book is "Darcy writes the words. Lizzie lives them." This, in my opinion, is quite misleading. When I picked up this book at BookExpo America, I thought that it was a story about a girl who writes the life of another girl, kind of Ruby Sparks-esque. Nope. For some reason, this really bothered me--the way that the two characters never met. It made me feel like Westerfeld might have written two separate books, thought they were both publish-worthy, and then slapped them together. The stories are just so different that they would be better as separate books.

Both of the narratives are written well.They would be very successful seperately, especially with Westerfeld's numerous fans grasping for the young adult material that he executes so artfully. But Darcy's story in the real world was so much more interesting than the although well-written, still formulaic story of Lizzie and her paranormal romance. I mean, what extremely successful young adult book written today doesn't include some kind of paranormal/rebellious romance? I'm pretty sure there are only two or three that come to the top of my head. On the other hand, I've never seen the story of a young writer in New York before--it was something that deeply interested me--Darcy's struggles and triumphs were such a new thing to read about in YA literature. It really educated me on what goes on as a newbie in the literary world. 

One thing that I loved about Darcy's story was the fact that Westerfeld didn't make a huge deal about the fact that Darcy was lesbian. This, in my opinion, was a great way to show younger audiences, who might not have a view on LGBT rights yet, that love is simply love. Darcy's friends brought it up once or twice, but the main point of her dating a woman was the romance between them. It was the same as any other relationship, which I think is important to educate people about. 

Afterworlds was an engaging read for the most part, but I liked one narrative more than the other, which, unfortunately, ultimately made me want to finish the book just to gain closure with one character and not so much the other. Both were still well-written, but if an author is going to write a story with alternating stories and split chapters, they should make sure that the reader will be interested in both stories equally. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

Concerning Celebration and Being Happy

First of all, Happy New Year to everybody! *insert fireworks here*. (please enjoy those---I know I did.) 

I have something to tell ya'll about. I was going down my Instagram feed on New Year's day at about 2 am in the morning and I came across someone who had written a long rant about how New Year's was a useless holiday that everybody on Instagram made a useless celebration out of. They then went on to talk about how all holidays were "just days" and therefore shouldn't be a big thing. 
When I read this, I blinked. A lot. Maybe my phone screen wasn't the best thing to be staring at at 2 in the morning, but my response was mostly due to the fact that this person was full of complete and utter crap. 
Not important? NOT IMPORTANT? Without holidays, what is life? It sounds extreme, but I didn't understand this person's "just don't care" attitude. (Also, of all, from the look of the rest of their page, they actually did care a lot about making sure people knew that they didn't care, but that's another point. ) Life is already going to try to make you sad and bad and mad and overall, disappointed. Why would you want to succumb to that and not celebrate anything? Celebration is the key to being happy. It helps you take joy in life and realize, in the wise words of Forrest Gump, sh*t happens. You're the only one who decides to either get up or sit down, roll around, and wallow in it. (Sorry for the imagery there, but you get my point.) The descision to celebrate or not is the difference between those who get out of their sh*t, and the sh*t-sitters. (I am taking this way too far and it's making me laugh way more than it should.) Those who get up see that life actually is something worth recognizing. Every celebration or holiday comes down to the basic act of rejoicing in life. A new life, a life gone, a life lived well. And anyway, even if you don't like celebrating, you usually get free cake. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Bored Button

Today, I was bored. So, being me, I typed 'so bored'  into the search box of Google. The first result was this site. I cautiously clicked it, waiting for a bunch of ads to pop up on my screen, or a virus to infect my computer, as sites like these usually do.

I was wrong.

The bored button looks like this:

The text below it reads:

"I am bored. I'm so bored. I'm bored at school. I'm bored at work. I'm bored to tears. I'm bored to death. Do you find yourself saying any of the above? If so, you've reached the right website. Clicking the red button will instantly take you to one of hundreds of interactive websites specially selected to alleviate boredom. So go ahead and give it a try.

Press the Bored Button and be bored no more."

       Why not. I was bored, and this seemed the perfect remedy. I proceeded. The first site I was brought to was a interactive-boombox-creator-thingy. (articulate, I know.) Basically you drag sounds, beats. melodies, voices, and other things of the sort onto different animated people that start to make that sound. It was so engaging. The next site I was moved onto (after clicking the button again) was a text box that promised to announce your, and I quote, "big-ass message" to the world in huge font. There was a page that tested your ability to complete entirely mundane tasks for an extended period of time without doing anything else--you had to hold down a button with your mouse. I succeeded in this for all of five seconds, 33 milliseconds. 
       Some sites were hilarious--the "big-ass message" being the example here. There were others that were creative and beautiful: a site where the move of your mouse would create your own "internet silk". There were others that expanded your worldview--a site where each click of your mouse could take you to a different place on the earth. 
       The most recent one I visited was a site with a black background and small objects sticking out of the darkness. They moved, made sounds, etc. when you clicked and held on them. There was one piece on which I clicked that "turned on the lights" and revealed what each object really was. In reality, I had only been seeing parts of other objects. Each thing was something entirely different than what I thought it was. In short--imagination. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Walled City by Ryan Graudin

The Walled City is, to be put simply, a teen thriller. I really have to applaud Ryan Graudin on his imaginative and interconnected storyline. Each new chapter kept you yearning for the next one, and as you found out more about the characters, you figured out plot twists before the rest of the book's characters did, which made you keep reading, waiting for them to discover what you had. This very interactive storyline really keeps readers interested in the book. But a storyline can only do so much, and although Graudin fully succeeded with the plot, the writing itself was mediocre. When compared to other books, it was...lets just say it won't be remembered for its prose.

However, the intriguing thing about this book that everyone is buzzing about (ha--and its a BEA Young Adult Editor's Choice Buzz Book! Nudge Nudge! No? Okay.) is the fact that it is very hard to classify--it's not fantasy or dystopia, two of the biggest genres in current YA Fiction. But it's not really historical fiction either, even though the Walled City was a real place. That was an interesting thing to think about as I read it, which further pulled me in.

The Walled City is a grimy, dark place full of criminals, gangs, homeless children, drugs, and brothels. The story follows the tales of three teens, each running to or from some evil. 
The first teenager is Dai, a 17-year-old boy hiding from the police, being persecuted for a crime he didn't commit. He's searching for the one dangerous item that could bring him his freedom. Only problem? He has to steal it from one of the most powerful drug lords in the city.
Jin is a young girl disguised as a boy to keep herself from being taken into the brothels. She's spent the last two years looking for her older sister, sold into prostitution by their very own father.
Finally, Mei Yee is a young woman taken away to the brothels against her will and sentenced to a life of prostitution, with no hope of escape. She's watched countless attempts and seen every single girl who's tried to free herself brought back and punished. Will she ever get out of her miserable life?

So if you want a really engaging, page-turning read, I would definitely recommend The Walled City. But if you're extremely bookish like me, and get hung up on writing and sentences that aren't that great--well, I'd still read it, but you have to let go of that part of yourself and focus on the plot. 

If I had to pick, I'd say look for this book in November 2014 from Little, Brown. Whether you like it or not really depends on what kind of reader you are!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

There are some books that combine hilarity and painful truths in smooth and flawless ways. Gabi, a Girl in Pieces, is one of them. This book was the perfect belend of wry humor mixed with harsh realities of the real world we all inhabit.

Gabi is about a Hispanic senior in high-school struggling with body-image issues and being overweight, as well as having an overprotective mother and a meth-addict for a father. She's also trying to help her two best friends, one a soon-to-be teen mother, the other a boy kicked out of his parents' house for being gay.  Gabi also lives in a community that is almost entirely Hispanic, and you see through her eyes what growing up as part of a very Hispanic culture is like. 

This book was stunningly real. It showed the hardest struggles of high school, as well as the simpler ones. Quintero showcased everything a teen might possibly go through in high school--from facing bullies, teachers, and detention, to deeper issues like when someone you love is addicted to drugs, dealing with an unwanted teen pregnancy, and embracing your own sexuality, even if others won't accept you. You don't really see a lot of writers nowadays that really try to tackle topics like these, and I'm glad that it was Quintero who decided to. She made her characters sound normal and approachable, in a way that a lot of young people can relate to. It's important for middle schoolers and even those in the younger years of high school to know about things they might run into, and if they can't see it in a way that's familiar to them, there's no point even trying to get through to them.

Gabi also hit upon some issues that girls are faced with daily. Gabi's mother is always telling her to be careful around boys, endlessly reminding her with the phrase "ojos abiertos, piernas cerrados." Eyes open, legs closed. Gabi helps two pregnant girls in her school. One gets an abortion, one does not. The problem is that they are both terrified about what everyone will say once they find out about their pregnancy, or what they will say if they do have an abortion. The fact that they may be called a "slut" or a "baby-killer". Here's an excerpt.

...Everywhere I looked, wherever there were couples or pregnant teens, I would wonder if it was consensual. Because of our idea of how good girls behave and how bad girls behave, many girls are too afraid or ashamed to speak up. Afraid of what everyone would say about them, afraid of being called liars, sluts, or ofrecidas. This is what Cindy and Georgina and my mom have taught me. 

The fact that girls are too afraid to speak up if something like this happens is only one of the main points of this book, and there are many other tough topics tackled in Gabi. Look for this book in September from Cinco Puntos Press!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Taking Flight by Michaela & Elaine DePrince

There are some people who feel entitled to write memoirs at the age of 20, despite having not lived a full life at all. Their lives have been utterly normal, yet they insist on producing written works of "art" entirely about themselves. This always bugs me. That being said, Michaela DePrince is not one of those people at all. Her new book, Taking Flight, shows her triumphant story as she journeys from the orphanage in Sierra Leone to the Dutch National Ballet. It's a wonderful, uplifting story.

Taking Flight is about a girl. A girl who saw her mother die at the age of four and was entrusted to an orphanage, where she is labeled Number 27, the last and most unwanted one out of 27 girls. A girl who suffers from a spotted skin condition that incites nicknames such as "devil-child". A girl rescued by the simple picture of a ballerina en pointe, torn from a magazine caught in the clutches of a gate. 

Many children in America are not aware of racism in America, believing it has been eradicated entirely with the prohibition of slavery and Jim Crow laws. But this is not true. The fact is, we Americans like to say that we've done away with racism, give ourselves a pat on the back, then turn around and cross the street as soon as we see a supposedly "suspicious" man of color. Parents don't like to tell their children that racism exists because it puts them in an uncomfortable position--it shows that they haven't done what is supposed to be done. This book has the incredible potential to open children's eyes to what really goes one in a world divided by a color wheel. Michaela tells the tale of her struggle to break through the barriers set up by prejudiced people who think that black women aren't delicate enough to dance. She expressed her goal in an interview to one day dance the part of the White Swan in the beautiful ballet Swan Lake--hoping that people will overlook the stereotypes attached to the fact that she is African-American. Here's an excerpt from the book:

        During rehearsal one of the mothers who was chaperoning us said, "Black girls just shouldn't be dancing ballet. They're too athletic. They should stick to modern or jazz. That's where they belong." 
        My younger sister told me that she once heard a dance teacher claim, "Black girls can't point their toes."
       Once, someone in the ballet world, whose opinion meant a lot to me said to my mother, "We don't like to waste a lot of time, money, and effort on the black girls. When they reach puberty, they develop big thighs and behinds, and can't dance ballet anymore." I overheard the remark, but I wasn't supposed to be outside the door listening in, so I couldn't speak up and challenge what he said. My mother did, though, and that made me feel a little better. However, those words still terrified me to the point that I worried endlessly about the fateful day when I'd reach puberty and grow a big butt and big thighs.
....My mother told me the mean comments that I overheard about black ballerinas were based on jealousy as well as bigotry. 
    "You need to ignore them," she said. 
    "But I can't!" I sobbed as I struggled to catch my breath. "I'm worried that I'll never be a ballerina." 

I feel that racism at such a young age is cruel--it can shut down the dreams of children. It is blatantly unfair to me, and I think that the book shows other kids and teens that too. I hope it will urge them to combat it. 

The other aspect of this book was how it affected me. I realized that all the things I have--shoes, running water, food, are things that I and most of the population of the area I live in take for granted. This part of the book showed me that.

     I loved opening the kitchen cabinet to choose my cereal for breakfast. I would pour it into a bright yellow bowl and add a scoop of fruit, either strawberries, blueberries, or raspberries. Then I'd pour in a cup of milk. Having so many choices made me feel giddy with joy. Best of all, I could eat until my belly was full. I didn't have to wait until someone filled the bowls for twenty-six other children.
    When I needed to use the toilet, I could just jump up and run to the bathroom. I didn't have to worry about someone stealing my food if I left it behind. I flushed without fear of falling into a pit of smelly waste. Then I washed my hands with a foamy pink soap that squirted from a bottle. Ah yes, in America everything smelled good, I thought, even the toilet!

I have seen the pits that Michaela describes, and they are not pretty. I am now grateful for having at least 5 choices for breakfast and fresh, organic fruit to flavor it with. Suddenly my house seems huge and extravagant. She reveals a layer of the world hidden to most people of America. 

The book Taking Flight should show you that, as cheesy as the Disney line sounds, dreams do come true. But, unlike Disney, you really have to work. It's easier to climb down a mountain than to climb up, but the view at the peak is so much better than the one below. 

Look for this book in October 2014, from Knopf Books for Young Readers.