Monday, June 19, 2017

the perks of being a wallflower bu Stephen Chbosky


A few months ago, I watched the film version of the perks of being a wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, but I hadn't yet read the book. I really didn't know much about the story, but I like Emma Watson so I gave it a try. The movie took turns for which I was not at all prepared and I found myself often confused so I thought it was possible that something was missing from the movie that would have made more sense in the book.

the perks of being a wallflower, the book, was still not quite what I was expecting despite the fact that I had already seen the film. Set during the school year of 1991-1992, Charlie is anonymously writing letters to someone he knows, but not well. He tells this "friend" about all his worries starting high school and then proceeds to tell this "friend" everything that happens in his daily life. Essentially he uses this person as a journal, though he puts it this way:

...better than a diary because there is communion and a diary can be found.

Charlie struggles finding a place to fit in until he meets Patrick and Sam, seniors who take him under their wing. He's different, he isn't like anyone else. Patrick explains that he's a wallflower:

"You see things. You keep quiet about them. And you understand."

Some really awful things happen to and around Charlie and it is so hard to watch. He tries to do the right thing, he tries to understand, but he is so young and not really ready for it all.

At first this book bothered me and it took me a bit to realize it was the writing style that I didn't like. As the book begins, Charlie's letters are almost elementary. The sentence structure is choppy and it took me a few pages to understand that is the way a fifteen-year-old boy would write. As the story progresses, his writing improves thanks to the help of a very interested English teacher.

There were so many times I wanted to reach out and help Charlie, to stop him or help him make better decisions. As an adult reader, my perspective is so different from that of Charlie or that of the intended YA audience. This book has been included on the American Library Association's "10 Most Frequently Challenged Books" list a number of times and there were times when I certainly understood why. There is drug and alcohol use, smoking, and some sex that I can understand would make adults uncomfortable. I wouldn't want my thirteen-year-old to read it, but I wouldn't object if my sixteen-year-old were to bring it home. Certainly there are discussions that should accompany this book, but I don't think it should be banned. I won't add it to my "Required Reading" list because I'm not sure I feel that strongly about it, but I can see how it could have value.

Just today, as I was nearing the end of the book, a lady at the library saw me reading it and mentioned what a good book it was. She really liked it. I just liked it. Have you read it? Did you love it? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Sisters One, Two, Three by Nancy Star


This month's book club selection is Sisters One, Two, Three by Nancy Star. Ginger, Mimi, and Callie Tangle are growing up in New Jersey with their brother Charlie and their parents Glory and Solly. It isn't the most idyllic childhood; Glory is not the ideal mother. The children are on constant alert for their mother's mood changes, but when real tragedy strikes and Glory declares it all unspeakable, the real scars form. Years later, Ginger is the mother of a seventeen-year-old daughter who leaves home far too early and with far too few plans, breaking her mother's heart.

Told in alternating timelines, the reader is given glimpses of the lives of the Tangle family both before and after the tragedy and then years later as Ginger struggles with her rebellious daughter and  her aging mother. When secrets are revealed, no one is prepared for the paradigm shift left in their wake.

This book was so frustrating to me at times. Some of the characters made me so angry, but I suppose that was exactly what I was meant to feel. I couldn't stop reading because I just had to find out what had really happened. When it was finally all revealed, I was absolutely shocked and heartsick for what this family had suffered. The writing wasn't perfect and there were parts that dragged while the story seemed to wrap up a bit quickly at the end, but I did like this book. If family drama, in books at least, catches your attention, this is the book for you. It is quick and engaging, making for a good summer beach read.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

What I've Heard- The Chemist


A few months ago, I read The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer and I really liked it. I just finished listening to the audio version and it was oh, so good. Just as exciting as the book, perhaps even more so with the intensity of the reading, the audio version had my attention in its grip. I was reluctant when I needed to turn off the audio book because I really wanted to keep listening. There just aren't any good stopping places- the action moves at such a strong, fun pace.

As I mentioned in my book review, don't let the author's name discourage you from reading or listening to this book. I know Stephenie Meyer may have lost some credibility with readers, especially as time has progressed from the frenzy created by the initial love affair many of us had with Twilight. (Don't deny it- she sold over 100 million books from that series and they weren't all bought by teenagers.) This book is good! It is fun and it moves at lightning speed. I really hope that it is made into a film (thought I hope the adaptation is better than what The Host received). This would make the perfect summer read/ road trip listen. I hope you'll give it a try.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

All the Best People by Sonja Yoerg


Set primarily in the early 1970s, All the Best People by Sonja Yoerg centers around Carole, a loving mother of three, a wife helping run her husband's car repair garage and the oldest daughter of a woman who has spent the last three-and-a-half decades locked in a mental institution. When Carole begins hearing voices, the fear that she is following in her mother's footsteps is more than she can stand. Having seen first hand what happens to people who lose their grip on reality, Carole's only option is to pretend it isn't happening to her and to hide it as best she can. Carole's young daughter, Alison, sees that something is wrong with her mother, but she can't understand what is happening. Though she wants to help and tries talking to her father and her aunt about it, Alison feels helpless.

This book is an interesting exploration of family dynamics, the barriers that often exist between rich and poor, especially in the years following the Great Depression, and the realities of mental illness in a time when so little was understood about it. Told in the three perspectives of Carole, her mother Solange, and Alison, we also see three different time periods. We meet Solange when she is young and are allowed to watch as events lead up to her commitment to the nearby mental hospital. We see Carole as a young child forced to deal with the loss of her mother in a situation that she can't understand and of which no one will speak, let alone explain. And we see Alison leaving childhood, becoming a young woman and not having the motherly support she needs. Written in such a beautiful way, I was touched by not just the words Yoerg used, but their rhythm. For instance, this section when Carole is hearing voices:

Voices pursued her. She couldn't make out the words and was almost inside the side that was in not the side that was out inside out like a sock pulled off in a hurry. Keep your insides in. Keep your outsides out. Sounded simple simple Simon Simon says touch your nose touch your head. Touched head. Dead.

The first section I encountered like this briefly confused me, but it took only a moment for me to find the pace and to understand that the author was bringing the reader into Carole's madness, sharing her thoughts with us. That is what I enjoyed about this book. There were a few characters that seemed almost unnecessary to the story, characters that might make sense if they had more development. There were a few tangents I wish she had explored more deeply, but overall I really liked this book. This isn't a light, easy read (it does focus on mental illness, after all), but neither is it too heavy. Interesting and beautifully written, this is a book I think you would enjoy.

Monday, May 29, 2017

What I've Heard- Before I Fall


It was only a few months ago that I read Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. I still haven't seen the movie version, but I just finished listening to the audiobook and I really liked it. As with the book, I really hated Sam at the beginning and the narration by Sarah Drew really works. Sam sounds exactly like the spoiled, mean, self-centered teenager she is meant to sound like, but as the book progresses and Sam's personality softens, so does her voice.

This book kept me moving during workouts and make it difficult to turn off when I was finished. This was a really good reading and I recommend it.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy


I really like Julie Murphy. Her first two books, Side Effects May Vary and Dumplin', were fantastic so I was naturally thrilled when I saw that she had a new book coming out. I reserved Ramona Blue from the library before they even had any copies and the second I had it in my hand I started reading. The title character, Ramona (last name not Blue, hair color blue), lives in a small town on the coast of Mississippi. This is a town that has struggled to fight its way back from the ravages of Hurricane Katrina, the storm that also left quite a mess of Ramona's family. She lives in a worn out trailer with her hardworking, loving father, her newly pregnant sister, and her sister's useless boyfriend. Ramona is 6 feet 3 inches tall and her world, and especially her home, are beginning to feel small to her. Ramona feels like she has herself figured out- she works two part-time jobs to help out her family and she's very comfortable in the knowledge and openness of being a gay girl in a small southern town- but maybe things aren't as clear as she would like. When a childhood friend moves to town and introduces her to competitive swimming, Ramona starts to wonder if there could be more for her than the beach town she's always known as home and if it is even a possibility.

Okay, SmartGirls. You know how I often complain that a lot of YA Fiction feels too shallow to me, that it just doesn't contain enough depth and can leave me feeling dissatisfied with its quality of writing? This has never been an issue with Julie Murphy's books. When Julie Murphy writes a character, the reader knows that character. We get involved and can't help but keep reading. And her writing makes me laugh. Some of the ways she phrases things make me laugh out loud in that crazy people-are-looking-at-me kind of way. For instance, when Ramona explains why she has to wear a two-piece swimsuit to the Y:

A one-piece on a girl as tall as me...well, that kind of camel toe might be a threat to national security.

She also introduces concepts that make me think of things in a way I haven't done before, while somehow also saying the things I've thought, but not known how to communicate:

It seems to me that childhood ends and adult life begins the moment you stop believing your parents can rescue you. As much as I love my dad, I stopped thinking that a long time ago.

Ramona Blue is wonderfully written and leaves me not at all dissatisfied. It is why I love Julie Murphy. Read it, won't you?


Monday, May 22, 2017

The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond


I have been married for seventeen years and I love my husband, but if we ever met anyone involved in an organization like what is found in The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond, I would run for the hills! In this new thriller, we meet Jake and Alice, newlyweds who have been introduced to a great new way to keep their marriage strong. The Pact is a group of people extra committed to their marriages and to ensuring the survival of marriage as an institution. It is a group that comes with its own rules, all meticulously laid out in The Manual. "Read it. Memorize it." And no, that's not a joke. But what happens if someone decides The Pact isn't for them, or if, heaven forbid, their marriage doesn't work out? Let's just say that isn't an option. At all.

In this creepy book that details what sounds an awful lot like a cult in the beginning and sounds like it can't be anything else by the end, the reader has the opportunity to explore interesting theories of marriage. Not only has Jake joined this group, but in his professional life he is a marriage counselor so we have access to several different perspectives. Jake shares with the reader studies on marriage and relationships that are quite interesting. Among the rules shared in the book are no talking about The Pact; always answer your phone when your spouse calls; each spouse must buy the other a gift every month and the couple must take a trip together every quarter. These all sound pretty good, but it is when the consequences for not meeting these requirements are handed down through a pseudo court that it starts to get sticky. And there is no room for negotiation:

Fidelity to the Spouse, Loyalty to The Pact. Till death do us part.

I thought this was a very intriguing concept, but I was a little disappointed in its execution. I felt the author did not allow the reader enough of a look into the way the group normally works before things start to get crazy. I also felt that some of the writing seemed amateurish, that it could have used a little more polish. That said, there was a lot to like in this book. I loved the insertions of actual scientific studies on marriage into the insanity of The Pact. And I really enjoyed the descriptions of Jake's practice as a marriage and teen counselor. At one point, we read an interesting exchange he has with a group of teenagers he counsels. When he overhears two of them discussing The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, Jake has this to say, which I thought was very interesting in the context of this book:

It is scary, but not for the reason you think. The scary part is that you might find yourself agreeing with some of it.

How much does the reader agree with the protocols of The Pact? How much is right and if it is right, are consequences a necessary part of any organization with strict regulations? How much should Jake and Alice "make peace with The Pact" or should they try to fight against it? These are all very compelling questions. I'd love to hear how you would answer.