Sunday, December 12, 2010

Life As We Knew It

I do not like reading about natural disasters that are actually plausible. Like, I can read The Hunger Games and at least fell like all that stuff isn't likely to happen in my or my daughter's lifetimes. But the moon getting knocked out orbit by an asteroid? Heck, that could happen tomorrow! That sort of thing feeds my paranoia just enough that lie awake at night plotting just how long my family could survive in such a situation (normally it's not very long). Life As We Knew It is no exception to the paranoia feeding, but damn, it's a really good book.

So, as you might expect, the book takes place in a world (out world) where the moon has been knocked out of orbit which significantly affects the natural order of things on the planet. Tides are out of whack (ridiculous, huge tidal waves that wipe out entire coastlines), the weather is going nuts, there are volcanoes going off all over the planet and that causes something akin to a nuclear winter, and there are sickness epidemics going on all over the place. Caught in the midst of this is Miranda Howell and her mom and two brothers (her dad and his pregnant wife make a brief appearance, trying to make their way south, but their fates are unknown as disaster after disaster unfolds). The story is basically Miranda's family trying to survive--but they aren't just trying to survive this new, horrible world they inhabit, but trying to survive spending hours and hours cooped up in the same small room together (which, I'm sure, would drive anyone crazy).

This story is so incredibly gripping. I read it very quickly and pretty much ate myself silly the entire time. Food and the amount of food and how hungry Miranda is (the story is told in the form of her journal) is a huge piece of this story and everything is so immediate and frightening that I found myself compensating for Miranda's lack of food by eating a ton myself. But that's just how engaging this book is.

Comparable Reads: I can't think of any book that quite puts me into this amount of panic. The only thing that I can think of that compares is the movie The Day After Tomorrow (similar wacky weather patterns, except in that movie, I think the ice caps melted or something).

Who this book is for: While it certainly will appeal to teen readers (the main character is a seventeen year old girl with very typical seventeen year old girl interests, even after, to a point, the moon disaster occurs), the tale is so gripping and the range of characters actually in the book is pretty wide, that I think most people could find something interesting and a character to whom they could relate. 

Ruby Holler

So, you know how I said I have very specific books that I choose to read in the previous post? (Okay, you won't have if you're reading this from most recent post to oldest post, but you'll see when you get to An Abundance of Katherines) Well, though I tend to be a thoroughly devoted reader of all things fantasy and historical fiction, as a kid I loved, loved, loved Sharon Creech (who writes, primarily, realistic fiction). Of course, I still love Sharon Creech, but my obsessive reading of her works fell off as I got older (around age fifteen or so). So, realizing I had an extreme lack of middle level books in my repertoire, I decided to pick up one of the few Sharon Creech books I have not read (mostly because it was published right around the time I had stopped reading her books).

Ruby Holler is about the "trouble twins", Dallas (boy) and Florida (girl), who have been bounced around from foster house to foster house, facing everything from neglect to flat out cruelty (there are a lot of allusions towards physical and emotional abuse), always landing back at the Boxton Creek Home where they had been abandoned thirteen years before. Their new foster parents, an older couple, Tiller and Sairy, whose children have grown and left home, have decided to take them in, but just for the summer, in hopes of giving the kids an adventure of a lifetime. However, things don't turn out quite as anyone had planned, and isn't that the point?

This story is so wonderful and sweet and made me bawl like a little baby at the end (I'm actually trying not to cry now as I think about it). As usual with Sharon Creech, there is a series of interesting and gripping plots and subplots all mixed together to highlight the beauty and importance of home and family, whatever shape or place it may be. I particularly liked the ending--it was so wonderfully frustrating and vague, yet perfect, so you can't get mad at Sharon Creech for writing it like that, but you can't prevent your mind from running over with ideas as to how the story ended. So good.

Comparable Reads: I think if this book sounds interesting, any of the other books Creech has written that sort of fit this profile (the country, adolescents, adventures), you'll likely find those books interesting, too. So, you have, of course Walk to Moons, and then Chasing Redbird, Bloomability, and The Wanderer.

Who this book is for: I think the typical audience for Creech's novels are young teens or "tweens" (I hate that word, but I guess it applies here). The book is so wholesome, but without being too goody-goody or obnoxious. It's a nice break from the overly dramatic, angsty stuff that sort of fills the airwaves and some of the books in teen culture. And while angst is great (I'm being serious) and is definitely applicable to the life of a adolescent, sometimes it's nice to have a break. Also, as an adult, it's nice to take a break from adult troubles and be a kid again an see things from the eyes of a kid again.

An Abundance of Katherines

When I'm looking for a book to read I have two major faults. One, I tend to stick with on or two particular genres (historical fiction, fantasy/sci-fi--even better if I can find a book that covers both!). Two, I have a big problem with rereading the same book over and over. I can't stand to watch the same movie or T.V. shows more than once or twice (there are a few exceptions), but I can read the same freaking book a hundred times (just ask my copies of Lord of the Rings and His Dark Materials Trilogy). Anyway, during this semester, when I've been asked to sort of reach beyond what I usually read and tackle some YA lit I might have otherwise ignored, I figured John Green would be a good place to start.

I was familiar with who John Green was as a person rather than as an author, having been introduced to the Nerdfighters this semester (Google this now if you do not know about Nerdfighters--awesomeness), and I've liked what he has to say. And while he's definitely not a sci-fi/fantasy OR historical fiction kind of writer, I figured if I like him, I might like what he has to say.

So, An Abundance of Katherines is all about a guy named Colin who gets dumped, for the nineteenth time, by the nineteenth girl he's dated name Katherine. Interesting premise, right? Colin is also something of a child progidy (not a genius, there's a difference apparently) and in search of finding a way to make his mark on the world. Anyway, in hopes of working himself out of his latest dumping, he and his friend go a road trip that lands them in a sort of back-woods town in the South, where the two friends find themselves entrenched with a rich factory owner and her daughter, Lindsey, who, unlike Colin, is looking to make as little of a difference as possible, wanting to keep her small home town the same cozy place it's always been. Anyhow, hijinx ensue along with a lot of self-discovery, generally funny-ness, and much use of the word "fug" (the book provides an explanation).

Well, I ended up liking this book quite a lot. I didn't find it quite as griping as I had hoped, but it was certainly more than readable and was a nice alternative to my usual literary fare. I thought the characters were engaging (and this, if you haven't caught on yet, is important to me), their emotions real, and there was so much good use of language and wit, which is sometimes lacking in novels directed at teens. John Green talks to teenagers through a voice that isn't trying too hard to sound teenish, but it's not wicked adult like, either. Actually, if you watch any of his vlog brothers videos on YouTube, the narration in "Katherines" sounds very similar.

Here is my one complaint. The road trip. Colin's parents just let him go. He basically says, "Mom, Dad, I'm leaving. Don't know when I'll be back, but don't worry, I'm make sure it's in time for college." His friend, Hassan, who seems to come from protective and fairly religious parents, also has a very easy time getting permission. And the family that the two friends stay with--totally fine with just taking two complete strangers in! It just seemed too convenient for me. My parents were pretty relaxed after I graduated from high school, but they weren't THAT relaxed. It didn't feel believable, and if I'm going to read "realistic" fiction, then I kind of want there to be a higher level of plausibility.

Comparable Reads: I can't really think of anything I've read (at least not anything I can remember well enough) to compare this, too. I mean, the road trip factor and the teenager angsty stuff is similar to any book you might find directed at teens, but the writing, in my opinion, is so different, that I can't think of anything to do a worthy comparison to.

Who this book is for: While the audience is teen readers, I would argue adults (particularly those in their twenties) could really get into this. Like I said, the characters are engaging, and they're also not stereotyped teens. They're like real people with real issues, and I sometimes feel like writers try very hard to write a teenager rather than an actual person.