Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Love Story, by Jennifer Echols

Love StoryLove Story by Jennifer Echols

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm going to start rereading this again tonight on my way home, because a) it's worth it, there's lots to sink your teeth into, and it's a great story; and b), as usual, in my what happens next frenzy, I feel like I missed enjoying a lot of the subtleties, the foreshadowing and the imagery that I saw from the corner of my eye as I zoomed by on my plot driven rampage. One of the many things I like about Jennifer Echols' more serious books (although I love those Simon Pulse romcoms, too!) is that there is a depth to her stories that makes them worth reading thoughtfully, carefully, deeply, in a way that I remember from college. Why is this image used here, what does the setting tell us about the characters and their story, that kind of thing. I'm no literary critic or even an astute student, but I am a good reader who likes to think about those kind of things, like the bridge in Going Too Far, that was such a crucial plot point as well as a symbol for the characters' feelings and their relationship. So, in this book, I thought the choice of a horse farm was really brilliant, and the horses themselves (in the abstract, it's not like Walter Farley or something, and most of the book is set in NYC) were such an important part of understanding Erin and Hunter. For Erin, horses seemed to represent something she both loved and mistrusted, both the powerful unconstrained feeling of freedom to run/live untrammeled, and also the confined, closeted feeling of being shoved into a starting gate by forces and authority beyond her control. *SPOILER (SORT OF) ALERT* The circumstances of her mother's death also created a huge fear and bad association issue with horses, tempered by the rational realization that it wasn't the horse's fault. But the idea that "that's just the way they are," doesn't make them less scary, really now, does it? *OK NOW. For Hunter (and that's a kind of horse, right?), horses seemed to represent not so much freedom, but rather more constraint, since they were the means by which he became a social inferior, and also a source of constant work which he never really seemed to enjoy. I haven't exactly figured out why, on the first day of class, his "horse drawing," doesn't include an actual horse, but rather a cluster of images of tack associated with a horse, but I think this was a big clue to his ambivalence (at best) about them, and what they represented to him. It's cool to contrast that with Erin's drawing, which also tries to represent not so much an actual horse as the feeling of freedom in motion. So Erin's relationship to Hunter seemed to share some of the characteristics of her feelings about horses: conflicted, scared, yearning, tender, full of memories good and awful, and most of all, mistrustful of something that could be so beautiful yet leave such pain and sense of loss in its wake. I enjoyed the way this was written, too, with Erin and Hunter's class assignments interspersed. They were fun to read, they added variety to the tone in a fun and sometimes mysterious way, they moved the story forward, and provided lots of insight and backstory in a clever and interesting way without being all expository. So all in all, a rich reading experience with lots of emotion, expressed through many different levels of story, image, character and wonderfully chosen words. So yup, definitely worth rereading!

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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Good Girls, by Laura Ruby

Good GirlsGood Girls by Laura Ruby

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I guess it's kind of a theme in YA books that a super smart, high achieving girl who has an intense need for control might sometimes fall for a guy who is either out of her league, or moves in a different social circle (he's a player, The Duff, he's a jock, Not That Kind of Girl, he's too old and taking advantage of her, Story of a Girl also the Duff, or a stoner, At the Party). They have a "relationship" that mostly consists of secret hook-ups, in order to assuage her anxiety about various issues revolving around parents, school, or self-esteem. The reason this works for her is because when they are kissing (or whatev) she is so caught up that she escapes her overthinking, overanalyzing mind for a while, and just feels the moment. Far be it from me to question whether this works in real life (or happens), because there must be something elemental and powerful about this idea in order for it to be so prevalent and popular.

So, obvs, this book is in that genre, and it's a good one. The MC is more mixed up than troubled, and seems to just find it unbelievable that the boy could actually like her beyond wanting to hook up, so she breaks off the limited, secretive relationship they do have, without explanation, without thinking about him or his feelings (or that boys even have such things!). So when that sexy times photo someone surreptiously snapped of the two of them makes the rounds at school, it's maybe even more humiliating, more overwhelming than might otherwise be the case, although, it's hard to imagine how it could be moreso, honestly. I found Audrey likeable, believable, and possessed of a quirky, fresh and appealing voice and point of view. The whole issue with her Dad, and how the picture impacts their relationship was maybe the most affecting part of the book for me (cause I'm a Dad maybe?), and the resolution of that element is one of the more touching parts (again, maybe just me). This was the part that was the most like Story of Girl, another great book, btw, if you haven't read it. How Audrey deals with the aftermath of the overexposure, and becomes a more open, forgiving, understanding and less crazy person, makes for a good story, with good supporting characters and, for a change, fairly believable parents.

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Friday, July 8, 2011

Not That Kind Of Girl, by Siobhan Vivian

Not That Kind Of GirlNot That Kind Of Girl by Siobhan Vivian

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's almost always the case that how much I like a book depends on how much I like the MC, and Natalie Sterling is pretty hard to like. She definitely has a major stick up her butt, no question about it. She might even be proud to have you make note of that, in a smug, NPR know it all-ish sort of way, while pretending to be offended. So, it really takes some good writing to portray her in a way that makes her likeable, without lots of interior monologue or other heavy handed devices demonstrating that she's not really like that, or she's like that, but here's why. But her loyalty to her friends (even if misguided), her determination (even if it's based on unrealistic self demands), her vulnerability, and ultimately her bravery, eventually (it didn't really take that long, either) made her extremely appealing to me. And when she inevitably just can't carry the weight of the world anymore, her epiphany and how she deals with things falling apart for her was quite affecting for me. Siobhan Vivian made me care about Natalie, even when I didn't especially like her, and make me feel protective of her, too, even when she was dead set on a foolish course of action with a preordained bad end. The supporting characters were great, too. Autumn, Natalie's bff since before forever, and Spencer, the wenchy freshman Natalie used to babysit, are well drawn and move both the plot, and Natalie's growth, forward. Connor, the boy, isn't really a bad boy, even though Natalie seems to think so, and her inability to accept that is just one more irritating thing about her. I would even put him on a list of top YA bf's, he's certainly patient, forgiving and mature for a super hunkster. So, this is a bit more of a reaction than a review, and just to sum it up, I really enjoyed this, and was touched and satisfied when it ended.

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Saturday, July 2, 2011

Spoiled, by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

SpoiledSpoiled by Heather Cocks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You know right off the bat that a book isn't going to take itself too seriously when a character named Arugula is the first thing to appear, word one, page one. And although I really liked this book (that's what four stars means, right?) the "Arugula" issue seemed to typify the ambivalence the authors felt between going for the cheap laugh, or telling a story with real characters, capable of evoking real emotions. Happily, for me at least, the latter impulse seems to predominate, although there are plenty of laugh out loud lines peppered throughout ("You look like ten pounds of sexy in a five pound bag of awesome!") But I really did like this book (four stars worth!), and its retelling of the girl who discovers she's royalty (ok, Hollywood royalty, in this instance), only to have to deal with palace intrigue, jealous courtiers and an inattentive but loving King, is told with a fresh, freewheeling trendalicious voice, and with a main character, Molly, who is just the right mix of naivete and gumption. This is not one of those books where you are guessing about how it's going to turn out. But just like old bluesmen can take three chords, time worn themes and phrases, and recombine them in seemingly infinite iterations, the authors take the familiar elements and spin them into a funny and touching narrative full of great characters and witty banter.

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