Alienated: A Book Review

9 02 2014

Last weekend, I asked my boyfriend to pick a book for me to read off the always towering to-read pile.  Being a scientist of sorts, he selected a book about aliens. I have always read science fiction, from Robert Heinlein to Michael Crichton to the million dystopian novel that have been published in the YA market in the past few years. But I did not get the kind of sci-fi novel I was looking for in Alienated by Melissa Landers.

Let’s recap: Cara is a straight-A student, active on the debate team, very ambitious, future journalist.  Because of this, she is rewarded by being given an opportunity to be the first American to host a L’eihr exchange student.  She is not thrilled, but it comes with a scholarship. Plus, her mother was saved by L’eihr technology that cured her mother’s cancer so she already feels like she owes this alien society.

Once the L’eihr get to earth, tension explodes.  A group calling themselves HALO protests having the aliens on earth.  Mostly, the book follows Cara but every once in awhile, we get to follow Aelyx, Cara’s alien exchange student, so we see how he feels on this foreign planet.

The best part of this book is Cara’s blog, which she starts to talk about Aelyx and the L’eihrs.  They are being interviewed constantly by traditional news media, as you might expect, but this blog gives Cara a platform–and a leg up for her future career.  As a writing device, we also get a way to learn about lots of L’eihr technology and tradition, and a way to see Cara as a person with a skill, not just an angsty teenager, struggling because her friends have abandoned her.  There is a lot about tolerance and intolerance in this book.  It was a little more heavy-handed than I would have liked but it does evoke the Tea Party and other current “fringe” groups.

The hardest part of this book for me was the romantic tension between Cara and Aelyx.  It was ooey, gooey and everywhere.  Of course the alien is hot! What kind of a book would this be if the alien was ugly?  All the girls want to be with Aelyx, especially if it’s forbidden–although the idea that his spit is acidic turns them off (it isn’t, Cara makes that up to keep him all to herself).  And Aelyx embraces his human emotions by having feelings for Cara.  Oh, it made me crazy to read all those pages of tension between Aelyx and Cara! Angsty teen romance that includes the supernatural or paranormal is not my usual cup of tea and that was very apparent in this book–which only leads me to believe that it is a great romance title!

Recommend to: fans of Twilight

Galley copy of Alienated by Melissa Landers provided by NetGalley


Graphic Novel Interlude

27 09 2011

A short pause in the summer reading recaps to bring you the best graphic novel I’ve read all year, Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel.

My favorite part of this story was how much backstory all the characters had.  You could tell from the start that this was a huge world with characters who had lived there before the reader entered the story and would continue to be there afterwards.   I have found that some graphic novels aimed at the younger set feel like they just popped up out of nowhere–like the characters only existed the moment they were drawn on the first page.

Other things to love: the dry sense of humor.  The Afterworld TenNapel imagines.  (I had one small qualm with the timeline in the Afterworld but I will get over it.)  The artwork which has its own attitude and its own sense of humor.

Bottom line: Do you like well-told stories about what might happen when you die?  Do you like graphic novels?  If the answer to either of those is yes, I recommend this book.

Kids on Deserted Islands

9 08 2011

Summer Reading Book #2: Lord of the Flies by William Golding
In which a bunch of boys find themselves stranded on a deserted island and turn into savages and things go badly until they get rescued.

Book #2.5 (i.e. not on my summer reading list): Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
In which a plane full of teen pageant contestants crashes on an island and the girls pull together to make huts, desalinate their water and become responsible women, unshackled from the eyes of the world and things go mostly okay until they get rescued (and then things basically turn into a James Bond movie).

Which deserted island book did I like better?  Good question.  Hard question.   I know which cover I like better:

I have seen many covers for Lord of the Flies and none of them have the”take me off the shelf” quality that Beauty Queens has.  Fortunately, I don’t judge books solely by their covers.  However, inside the books, you find something similar to the cover.  Lord of the Flies is thin on description and girls.  When I say thin on description, I don’t mean to imply that the book is mostly dialogue.  It’s more the feeling that Flies is about any boys that land on an island–one fat, one smart, one combative + the little ones.  This is an “every boy” story.  The Queens are more specific–part of that is Libba Bray’s writing style–and each girl helps to debunk a stereotype.

The last difference is a little bit spoiler-y: the boys kill each other and then get rescued, while the girls band together, kick butt and rescue themselves.  Although admittedly, Beauty Queens is satire.  It’s not meant to be realistic or possible (especially once you get to the insanity at the end) but I wished it was.  I want it to be possible because I want everything Bray is saying about girls to be true.  Any way you slice it, Beauty Queens is a feminist read.  Lord of the Flies is not feminist, nor is it uplifting in any way.  It is an unflinching look at human nature, which I appreciate even though it causes far more grimaces while reading.  Now I understand why high school teachers continue to use this book–I still wonder why mine didn’t include it.

Bottom line: Summer is always a good time to read about plane crashes and survival–either of these books do the trick, they just do it differently.

Book 1.5: Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen

28 07 2011

Or the best reason to cheat on your summer reading list: a really good book!

Leverage is Joshua C. Cohen’s first novel.  I must admit that I love reading first novels.  There is so much potential and they often offer so many surprises.  Many first novels tend not to be stuck in the YA genre–they are simply good books published for young adults.  This is not a good book, nor a great book–it is an incredible book.

The cover gives a great impression of the book: strong, with some content that is very real (like those veined arms) but often borders on nauseating.  At least for me.  This is the story of Danny, a gymnast, and Kurt, a football player who narrate alternating chapters.  Danny is a small kid, loves gymnastics, struggles at home because his father has basically checked out.  Kurt is a big guy with a stutter who has been sent through a lot of foster homes and has seen a lot of ugly situations.  Since this story is about bullying we expect Kurt to be the bully and Danny to be the victim.  Fortunately for us, this isn’t entirely true.  The football players do abuse the gymnasts–physically, verbally, etc.  But the football players aren’t too keen on Kurt either with his stutter and his desire to not be an idiot all of the time.

The leaders of the football team–the quarterback, etc.–do not come off well in this book.  But they put themselves in that position, being macho men, taking the “vitamins” the coach offers, bullying whoever they can in whatever way they can.  Including Kurt, whose stutter does not allow him to escape the bullying, despite his football connection.  Cohen portrays the stutter well, it doesn’t take over conversation or make the book painful to read.  It just is.  Of course, this could be due to the fact that the stutter often keeps Kurt from speaking out loud, true for many stutterers in the fish bowl that is high school.  Anyone who was no the top dog in high school will recognize the story being told in this book.  Even when it’s ugly, it’s like watching a train wreck.  You just keep on turning the pages, hoping the end will not bring despair (mild spoiler: there is some hope).

The only parts I got lost in involved football.  Make no mistake–athletics play a huge role in this book.  Kurt plays some sort of role on the football team that doesn’t really matter if you don’t like football (he’s not the quarterback, that I know).  But if you know football or you like football, you might get even more out of the book than I did.  Knowing gymnastics events helps, too.

Bottom line: For people who like a well-written book that rings true and does not leave out the ugly parts.  (Ugly parts include verbal, physical and sexual abuse; murder; suicide; steroids–I think that’s about it, just FYI.)

My Favorite Books, 2010 edition

31 12 2010

I have been reading everyone else’s favorite books lists and I just couldn’t help but jump in on the action.  I’m including the publication date as not all of these books were published in 2010 (yup, I caught up on some oldies but goodies this year).  With no further ado, and in no particular order:

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper (2010): 11 year old Melody has cerebral palsy and has never spoken a word.  She gets a speaking machine and everything changes–except people still think she’s stupid because she drools and she’s stuck in a wheelchair.  Issues in this book were spot on, in only as many words as were necessary (as teen books get longer, I appreciate the ones that choose their words wisely more).

Chains (2008) and Forge (2010) by Laurie Halse Anderson: My review of ChainsForge is just as good, even though it’s not narrated by Isabel but by her friend Curzon, who winds up becoming a rebel soldier.  Good cold weather read as the soldiers at Valley Forge with no shoes or blankets or houses are colder than you’ll ever be.

Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John (2010): Piper is deaf but somehow she becomes the manager of a hard rock band.  Premise sounds absurd but Piper is awesome.  Another book where you get to be in the head of someone totally different–like Melody from Out of My Mind.  I’m a sucker for this.

White Cat (Curse Workers #1) by Holly Black (2010):  Science fiction!  Curse workers and mafia and more twists and turns than I can explain without spoiling the book.  Trust me, the set up is worth it.  And the next one comes out in April!

Wolves, Boys and Other Things That Might Kill Me by Kristen Chandler (2010): I was so worried this was going to be paranormal when I read the title.  But it’s actually about real wolves in real life–the wolves that were reintroduced into Yellowstone.  KJ gets wrapped up in boys, wolves and small town politics.  Well-written and outdoorsy.

Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines (2009) My review on this blog

The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga (2006): Unclear why I never read this one.  Fanboy spoke to me, in all his graphic novel and frustrated teenage glory.  I actually read the companion novel, Goth Girl Rising, right after I finished the first, which means I loved the characters.

Hate List by Jennifer Brown (2009): I almost forgot this one!  How could I do that?  Yes, it’s a book about the aftermath of a school shooting.  Valerie’s boyfriend was the shooter and to inspire him, he used the “hate list” that the two of them had created together.  Nick is dead but Valerie is going back to school.  As you might imagine, she is traumatized and ostracized. Just reading that description doesn’t do the book justice.  There is no moral high ground in this book–that’s the part I liked the most about it.  Valerie is struggling and you get to struggle along with her.  This shooting is also not based on any particular real life shootings and that helps it a lot.  Suffice it to say, this is a book about a school shooting that is not like any others you’ve read.  And that is probably why I was so moved by it.

I’m excited for lots of new books this coming year, including the one book I got for Christmas: Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld!  Happy New Year everyone!

Supporting Lady Writers

3 05 2010

There has been a massive amount of discussion in the blogsphere about the Huffington Post article by Sara McCarry, “Faking Nice in the Blogosphere: Women and Book Reviews.” I will not attempt to recap all the criticism; Liz B has a great rebuttal and links to many relevant blogs on her blog, A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy.  She’ been updating to include new responses and in reading one, I found a passage that I didn’t notice before.  And it made me mad (emphasis is mine):

“Nice lady writers don’t rock the boat, they don’t hurt people’s feelings, and they sure as hell don’t write about topics that make other lady writers uncomfortable.”

Really?  Ms. McCarry, I’m not sure you’re up on teenlit.  A couple of books by women writers spring to mind.

1. Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott: Book about Alice, a teenage girl who was kidnapped at the age of 5 and made to be a sex slave to Ray. At the time the book starts, Ray is forcing Alice to find a replacement for her since she has gotten too old and he is no longer attracted to her. While this book was powerful, it was also powerfully disturbing and definitely controversial in the library I was working in at the time. Looking for reviews of this title leads to a review and discussion of how important it is to read books that make us uncomfortable over at Book Addiction.
2. Kendra by Coe Booth: The librarian who recommended I read this book and that the library purchase it thought that it had a stellar discussion and description of anal sex, which (sort of spoiler) the main character Kendra does with a guy to avoid losing her virginity since her grandmother is always threatening to her hymen examined (end sort of spoiler). Now, I’m not down on sex, but this is more about being pressured into having some sort of sex by a bad boy. I think it’s done fairly well, though I wasn’t as thrilled about it as my colleague. Neither was Ms. Stabooksi. I’m going to guess that the “Ms.” means she is a woman. I will say there was good press for this book at TeenReads (especially the last paragraph which admits this book has controversial content). For the record, I mostly agree with TeenReads.
3. Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan: I wish someone had warned me, as an adult, that this is a book about rape. Before we get into the main story, the main character Liga is raped a number of times by her father, once resulting in a pregnancy, and then raped again by a group of boys, again resulting in a pregnancy. By the end of the book, we have seen several more rapes of different characters for various reasons. Most of these scenes are not explicit but Lanagan’s writing ensures that they continue to be shocking. I struggled with this book. But Six Boxes of Books makes a case for why it is a book that should be read despite its disturbing nature. Yup, even though it’s written by a lady writer, it sure is disturbing.

I rest my case. Lady writers do write about controversial, necessarily disturbing topics especially in the YA lit world. Why? Because teens deal with disturbing, controversial topics. Because lady writers aren’t afraid to shy away from hard topics, ones that will stick with readers. And I applaud them for that.

Unreliable Narrators, Part 2

29 04 2010

Confession #1: I realized after my last post that I have not mentioned the one major gap in my reading. I’ll confess, I haven’t read that many adult books. Especially the classics. I mean, I probably read more adult books as a teenager than I do now, mostly because the young adult section of my library did not actually exist when I was a teenager. And now my focus is so much on teen and children’s books, that I don’t read many new adult books–unless I’ve been reading that author since my teenage years.

Confession #2: I am addicted to Sara Shepard’s Pretty Little Liars series, which is soon to be a new TV show on ABC Family. I think that may be more embarrassing than my lack of education in the classics. I mean, I have to tell you–I hate this series. I hate the characters, they are MEAN! Without exception. The parents are exceedingly cruel to their children, the four main characters are mean girls, hiding things from each other for their own gain (and a little out of embarrassment and fear of retribution) and the girl who died (not really a spoiler, we find out about this early in the first book) was the queen of mean. I’m not really sure if these books have any redeeming qualities–and yet I keep reading them! I think it’s the mystery (which I swear I’ve solved!) that keeps me reading the books. I mean, how will I know if I’m right if I stop reading now?

Anyway, I was reading Flawless, the second book in the series when I happened upon a particular passage. An English teacher is giving an assignment to one of the girls–a side project on unreliable narrators in literature. He says: “Well, the narrator tells us the story in a book, right? But what if…the narrator isn’t telling us the truth? Maybe he’s telling his skewed version of the story to get you on his side. Or to scare you. Or maybe he’s crazy!” (p. 123) That’s what I’ve been talking about, Mr. Fictional Teacher Man! That stopped me in my tracks. Aside from the fact that this is probably a clue in the series, given by our omniscient narrator, it made me realize–what am I missing by just reading teen books? How many adult books, maybe even classics, have I not read that might be relevant to these teen books I’m reading now? How can I recommend similar books to teens if I haven’t read them? How can I even claim to be an expert on books?

Answer: I don’t claim to be an expert on books, though I do know a hell of a lot about teen books. Knowing what you don’t know is the first step to learning more. So, I’m still looking for adult books with unreliable narrators. Anyone?