Monday, April 29, 2013

Review of the Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Scholastic Press
The Raven Boys
by Maggie Stiefvater
5 Scribbles
Spoiler Alert!

Blue’s eccentric fortune-telling-family has warned her for as long as she can remember that the first boy she kisses, her first love, will die. So when she sees the spirit of a boy destined to die in the upcoming year on St Mark’s Eve, she has to wonder if he’s the one from the prophecy. Regardless of the boy Gansey’s fate, she knows without a doubt that she will be sure to have no part in his impending doom. What she doesn’t know is that destiny has other plans—and she may not have the control over her fortune that she thinks she does.

Stiefvater is one of the most talented artists in YA. She's a painter, a musician, and a writer. But more importantly, she is a phenomenal novelist. What makes her work superior, in addition to her amazing characters, is her gift for taking a work that is paranormal or sci-fi and keeping it grounded in reality.  When Blue and Gansby inevitably meet, the obvious conflict in the story, the kiss, is offset by the highly engaging quest that these two, along with the other Aglinby boys undertake. Gansby believes that an ancient king is asleep along a powerful ley line, and that the one who finds him will be granted a boon.  Stiefvater takes this quest archetype and breathes new life into it by weaving previously exclusive sci-fi elements with a murder mystery and coming-of-age plotline.  Teenagers weary of the typical sci-fi/quest fare will take this brew and gulp it down! Additionally, the characters in this novel are highly engaging, believable and relatable.  For instance, Blue is an incredibly relatable character, even though she lives with an unusually eccentric family. Blue’s mother and aunts are psychic, and yet I never wonder at the skills of this brilliant hodge-podge of eccentric ladies who all live together in estrogen-soaked harmony. When Blue inevitably meets Gansby and his friends, these characters are equally riveting, if not relatable. I love Adam, the poor, tortured academic driven by ambition, and Ronan, the miserable teenager who loves a good fight, and even soft-spoken Noah—who I found to be as solid a character as his more flesh-bound friends...they each became real to me.  In fact, the more central characters, Blue and Gansby, receive less focus than secondary characters, and yet this works quite well for this story and builds the readers investment in the outcome.  Most readers can relate to the struggles of one character or another, in spite of the otherworldly events that take place throughout. Who hasn't longed for more money or struggled financially? Who hasn’t longed to be like someone else, or just to "fit-in"? Who hasn’t tried to try stand apart in order to feel special? Who hasn’t known of an abused friend or been abused themselves? And perhaps most importantly, who hasn’t found camaraderie in a group of diverse friends?  It is these elements that unify the story, lend it power and magnetism, and make it work. And it is these elements that will draw readers (and me) back to the next installment, The Dream Thieves, coming out in September of this year.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Review of The Genius of Little Things by Larry Buhl

CreateSpace Indepedent
Publishing Platform
The Genius of Little Things
y Larry Buhl

3 ½ Scribbles

Tyler Superanaskaia (it’s Russian) has spent the years since his mother’s death in foster care, or the “foster-go-round” as he calls it. Now Tyler is approaching graduation and that means starting his life post-foster-system exactly the way he’s always dreamed it: living on his own, attending Caltech and becoming a successful immunologist. Yet, in order to achieve these dreams, he must first earn money for his future living expenses, write an award-winning admissions essay and present an academic record that will earn him a scholarship. Will Tyler’s quirky personality and peculiar sense of “normal” get in the way of his dreams?

Told in a series of Tyler’s amusing lists, botched admissions essays and narration, the novel is carried largely through the strong sense of voice permeating each page. Tyler’s character is eccentric to say the least; his is so analytical that it is difficult for him to come down to the level of those who are less intelligent but more streetwise. He uses extremely advanced vocabulary when it is unwarranted, and he is so literal that he often misses the meanings of euphemisms—and yet, he has very clever and ironic nicknames for key people in his life. For instance, he calls his current foster parents, Carl and Janet “FoPas.” At times this dichotomy is confusing to the reader, at other times it is indicative of a touch of Asperger’s Syndrome or at the very least a symptom of living in homes that serve to isolate him from healthy, positive socialization. As it stands, this distinction is not made but left to the reader to determine. Nonetheless, this strange character dynamic does not limit the humor in the story. More sophisticated readers will enjoy Tyler’s ironic musings, his clumsy relationship with Rachel, and his disastrous and hysterical attempts at creating stronger extra-curricular experiences for his resume. In short, they will stand firmly in Tyler’s corner. Minor characters in the story provide interesting compliments to Tyler’s struggle, showing that all individuals have battles of their own, from Carl and Janet, whose marriage is struggling in the wake of their son’s death, to Levi, whose uber-religious parents hold him in chains.  The only problematic element in the story is Tyler’s flippant reaction to Milagro’s death; his lack of concern is clearly caused in part by his short-lived, yet disastrous use of drugs. And perhaps in reality this is what happens—drug abusers sometimes don’t suffer consequences to their actions or recognize how their actions affect others—but such imperviousness on Tyler’s part does not ring true with the Tyler who is developed throughout his time working at the nursing home, the Tyler who falls in love with Rachel and the Tyler who reaches out to Levi. But for this one odd puzzle piece, I’d have given this novel a full four scribbles. Readers who enjoyed such novels as The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky and Looking for Alaska by John Green should definitely check out this novel, by screenwriter and playwright Larry Buhl.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Review of The Elite by Kiera Cass

HarperCollins Children's
The Elite
by Kiera Cass
3 Scribbles

To be released 4/23/2013
Spoiler alert!

Six girls remain in the competition for Prince Maxon, and America is one of the favorites. Yet, America is still struggling with her feelings for her first love, Apsen, and she isn’t sure she has what it takes to be princess, and eventually queen. Meanwhile, rebel attacks increase and it becomes apparent that the palace is full of secrets. The clock ticks as the The Selection draws closer to an end. Will America resolve her feelings before it’s too late…and will she be Maxon’s choice?
The best part about the second book is the inclusion of tidbits from Illéa’s past. Details about the kingdom start to leak via America’s relationship with Maxon, and the entire caste system is explained. It seems the current King prefers to keep his people in the dark; America discovers that the history put down on paper is far different from the oral history that has been passed down through Illéa’s people over generations. Suddenly, the dystopian elements that seemed to be “tossed in” in book one, make a bit more sense.  America’s character is more fully developed. The reader may be disgusted by the hypocrisy of America’s continued relationship with Apsen while she experiences extreme jealousy over Maxon, yet this imperfection is what pulls the reader headlong into the story. . Aspen is America’s “one constant.” He represents America’s link to the past, and her inability to move forward. Prince Maxon, however, clearly has a hold on her heart, but that hold brings with it America’s encroaching adulthood—adulthood she is not ready to embrace. Maxon too is more fully developed. The reader finds a reason for his behind-the-radar changes to the kingdom, and begins to understand a new and unexpected dynamic in the royal family. Still, the dystopian elements take a backseat to the romantic elements of the story, and because of this, readers who love reality TV and romantic novels will more likely enjoy this series than those who love dystopian works like Divergent and The Hunger Games. And…if you were hoping to discover the winner of the competition, hope some more. It seems the winner will not be revealed until book three. Sigh. I guess I’m still in!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Review of The Selection by Kiera Cass

The Selection (Book One)
by Kiera Cass
3 Scribbles

Take American reality T.V. show The Bachelor, combine with a Hindu-styled caste system, sprinkle with just a touch of Power Ball Lottery—and violá—a modern young-adult romance is born.
America Singer is in love with Aspen, and even though his caste is below hers, she knows he is THE ONE. If only she could get Aspen to believe that he is good enough for her despite his lowly caste. So when Aspen asks her to enter her name into Illéa’s “Selection,” a contest created for the Prince of Illéa to select his bride and future queen from amongst the people, she doesn’t hesitate. America knows she won’t be chosen to compete when every girl from every caste in the nation is applying, and only thirty five girls will be selected. Then Aspen will know they were meant to be together. Not only is America not future queen material, but the chances of her falling in love with someone else even if she were chosen is non-existent. Until the unthinkable happens.

Although I am not a fan of reality TV per se, and I am particularly appalled by shows like The Bachelor, I do feel that there is a wide audience for this book. I loathe The Bachelor in particular, because I feel that it simplifies love and marriage, and it also degrades the value of women and people in general. That being said, it is a widely popular show among the American public and American teenagers.  That same audience will likely be attracted to this work. Put aside the fact that thirty five girls are all vying for the hand of one privileged boy and another theme comes through. The book is about first—and second— love. Who doesn’t remember their first love and the powerful feelings that come with him? America’s feelings for Aspen are pure, untainted by hurt and regret, and her idealistic and naïve view of love is highly relatable. It is true that one never forgets their first love, and America is no exception to that rule. Hardly ever is a book written about the guy that comes after THE FIRST, and this novel does just that. In simple prose, and dialogue that borders on elementary at times, the reader sees how second love develops, perhaps more slowly and tentatively than the first, but with far more reason and consideration. In this regard Cass’s novel is unique. Add to this the dreamy nature of the castle, the elaborate dresses, the pampering and admiration America receives, and it’s not hard to see why it’s hard to put this book down despite its flaws. I’d wager not one girl amongst us doesn’t secretly want to feel extra special and princes-like. Hopefully, the second installment in the series will feature more about the reason for Illéa’s caste system and rebel attacks on the castle; it would have added to the appeal of the book to elaborate on the “dystopian” setting, which at this point seems to have been tossed in for good measure and contributes little to the Selection as a whole. Despite the fact that this book isn’t a first pick for me, I will be reading the second installment—after all—I have to find out who wins.