Assorted May Reads

I journaled about a few of the books I read this May, but I haven’t mentioned the others I managed to squeeze in during this busy month. Here’s a little update:

  • Anne Brashare’s Sisterhood Everlasting (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants #5) [read 5/1/12]
    This book kept me company on a few plane rides and layovers during some recent travels. I hadn’t heard of it or even knew of its existence, yet there it was waiting for me on my old dresser. My mother saw it at the bookstore and picked it up for me, just like she did the first one all of those years ago. My loyalty to the series and general curiosity as to how the sisterhood made it through adulthood compelled me to read it. And yes, I really enjoyed it.

  • Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins [read 5/13/12]
    I picked up a vintage Hardcover copy of this book from Mr. K’s Used Books a couple of weeks ago. I love me a good survival story (in fact, survival is probably in my top 3 favorite genres), and I’ve seen this book on various Listopia book-lists featured on GoodReads. For me, the most fascinating aspect of the tale is the portrayal of gender on the indigenous island.  At one point, the dynamics shifted and the once clear-cut lines between male and female roles began to blur. It's a quick, interesting read.

  • Sharon Creech’s Heartbeat [read 5/14/12]
    Another hardcover edition I picked up at Mr. K’s. I have loved Sharon Creech ever since I read Absolutely Normal Chaos when I was 12. So, whenever I see one of Creech’s books that I haven’t read yet, I simply must have it. Heartbeat is so good!  A very fast read-- it took me maybe an hour to read it, but it packed a punch in very few words. It‘s written entirely in free-verse, and it’s the first book of its kind that I have ever encountered. I will certainly be on the lookout for more books written free-verse style.

  • Neil Gaiman's Black Orchid (Hardcover Deluxe Edition) [5/20/12]
    I won this graphic novel from DC Comics in a First Reads giveaway by GoodReads. Needless to say, I devoured it as soon as it came in the mail. Black Orchid has an unconventional storyline for a superhero comic, and if I had to sum it up in one word, I would choose bittersweet. Initially, the introduction made me think I would be disappointed in an ambiguous ending, but I actually found it hopeful, and the deviation from the norm is refreshing. The overarching message is really to break the cycle of violence. The beautiful art took my breath away. It is visually stunning, and some scenes look more photographic than illustrated. Another great feature contained in the deluxe version is the behind-the-scenes documentation, such as Gaiman's letter from the editor, preliminary notes, sketches, and storyline mapping.

Those are my assorted May reads for you, though there are still four days left to the month, so I might just have to add an update depending on how ambitious I feel.

Book Journal: Meg Mitchell Moore's So Far Away

So Far Away: A Novel
By Meg Mitchell Moore

Mini-Summary: A lonely archivist, Kathleen Lynch, emotionally scarred by the loss of her own husband and daughter, befriends a teenage girl, Natalie Gallagher, who is struggling with the divorce of her parents and cyberbullying from girls at school. This unlikely pair comes together through mutual interest in a mysterious diary written in the 1920s by an Irish nanny, Bridget Callaghan, who has secret struggles of her own.

Some themes at play within the novel:  Bullying, Divorce, Friendship, Death, Illness, Pregnancy, Loss, Family Struggles, Loneliness, Redemption

Some Thoughts (Spoiler-ish, fair warning):
I won this ARC in a First Reads giveaway by GoodReads, and I thought, having won it, that it wasn’t going to be… well… good. I never actively read anything that isn’t a classic, popular, or mainstream. I read books that are pretty much guaranteed to be at least well-written. So, I thought I was going to have to fake some nice things to say about this one, and that it would be a total disappointment because I acquired it so freely and easily. Despite all of my doubts, I am happy to say that this novel is actually pretty good, even if it isn’t entirely for me.

The real potency of this novel comes from the Natalie Gallagher storyline. Moore very aptly captures the plight of the teenage girl. Natalie struggles with the suddenness of her parents’ divorce and all of the change it brings into her life. Her disappointment in her father’s new romance and mother’s crippling depression is palpable. She is surly and impatient with them. Natalie looks to her parents as sources of strength, and she is deeply angry at them for being fallible and coming up short in their responsibilities to her. Natalie desires someone solid and aware in her life, and she learns the hard lesson that all children must eventually face: parents are humans too, and the childhood memories we have of them being superhereos are figments of our imagination.

The cyberbullying thread of the story is incredibly true to life. Natalie gets bullied by her ex-best friend and another girl, jealous of the attention Natalie receives from one of the boys in their grade. Moore expertly depicts the cruelty and calculating nature of insecure teenage girls through the constant bombardment of texts, voicemails, pictures, and website posts that Natalie suffers through. Natalie feels betrayed, helpless, and lost. She loses all self-confidence and becomes very angry at the world.  This book practically screams at the reader, sending a strong message about the harsh realities of cyberbullying.

There are some flaws within this book, however. For one thing, Moore does a poor job with Bridget’s voice. I just could not hear the Irish immigrant nanny. I could not hear the Roaring Twenties. Sure, the characters had bobbed hair and Bridget called the lady of the house “ma’am” every now and then, but that’s where any believability stops. I think maybe if Bridget didn’t use speech patterns that are so obviously present day, or if she had an Irish lilt to her voice, I might have been able to buy her character. I commend Moore for trying, and it’s an interesting concept to tie the characters together through these dated diary entries, but Moore should stick to what she is good at, and it isn’t historical fiction.

The character of Kathleen Lynch is another really off-putting component of this book for me. I simply could not stand her. She is a sniveling, pathetic wimp of a character. The constant repetition within her inner monologue of “Girls in trouble. Girls needing help. Trouble everywhere! We need to help ALL TEh GIRLZ!” is so incredibly annoying. There were some points in time where I wanted to throw the book at the wall. Kathleen is so self-absorbed for most of the book that she couldn’t see that her dog is dying and that her friends needed her. Her fixation on her lost daughter, Susannah, drove me crazy. I do concede that that may have been the point; Kathleen was drowning in her own losses. However, I think I would have still been able to see Kathleen’s redemption in the end without all the psychotic echoing of “Girls in trouble!”and the endless pity-parties she quite literally threw for herself (so many pointless pages of her hanging out in her apartment alone, thinking of the lost Susannah, who cares?!).

But I digress. Overall, this book passed the time pleasantly. There are some issues that I couldn’t ignore while reading it, but it packs a strong punch about adolescent bullying. I suppose I could recommend this book to teen girls (though I’m not sure they will have the patience for the middle-aged bouts of regret and loneliness Kathleen goes through), but I think I would really recommend this book to mothers of teen daughters. It’s mostly a cautionary tale with a little bit of secret love affair and gratuitous gay best friend thrown into the mix.

Favorite Quotes:
 “And it was that fast. Not quite overnight, but fast enough that Natalie felt dizzy from it all, unmoored, unanchored, the way she felt the first time she did a somersault underwater, when she didn’t know which way was up” (34).

“Natalie felt something dark and ugly gnawing a hole inside her. It was bullshit. All of it: bullshit. Her parents, both of them, Kathleen Lynch, who wasn’t even helping when she said she would. Hannah Morgan, who could do something about Taylor Grant and refused to. Mrs. Morgan, too blind to see what was going on […] All of them full of the same bullshit. Pretending to help, but doing nothing. Bullshit bullshit bullshit” (236).

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Information about my copy for my own records:
Publication:  Paperback, ARC copy, Hachette Book Group First Edition, May 2012
Genre: Coming-Of-Age, Middle-Aged Lit

Rota Fortunae

I finished my first day at work today, and it finally feels real. I can officially go around bragging that I work in my dream field: publishing.

To top things off, I also received my acceptance letter to graduate school to pursue my MA in English!

Lady Fortuna has spun her wheel in my favor once more.

Book Journal: Paul Zindel's The Pigman

The Pigman
By Paul Zindel

Mini-Summary: Two best friends, John and Lorraine, meet a lonely old man, Mr. Pignati, and befriend him, learning the harsh truths of life, love, and death along the way.

Some themes at play within the novel:  self-discovery, escape, beauty, alcohol abuse, parental alienation, hypocrisy, sexuality, aging, loneliness, bullying,  love,  truth, insecurity, friendship, death (What’s great about this book is that there are so many stories within stories; this allows for an abundance of themes not centrally related to the main characters)

Some Thoughts (Spoiler-ish, fair warning):
I am constantly on the lookout for popular children’s/ YA books that I missed out on earlier in my life. I first heard about The Pigman in a Young Adult Literature course some years ago, and my colleagues spoke of this book fondly and excitedly. So, I finally got around to reading it, and I’m very glad that I did.

Zindel expertly tackles tragedy and death through the character of the Pigman. Mr. Pignati’s fragile psyche and his extended mourning over his wife are truly heartbreaking. He is desperate for some companionship and love, and finds these things through the animals in the zoo and through two kids who don’t wholly understand the dire impact of their actions. What I find brilliant is that though the book is more about John and Lorraine than it is about Mr. Pignati, the Pigman’s relationship with them and the events that revolve around him matures the two characters and helps them better understand themselves. His character is what sets things in motion.

I really appreciated the textual elements added to the book: pictures, maps, sketches, hand-written letters. They break up the monotony of the plain text, and they also add more personality to the story. You can literally see the word games the characters played together and the signed certificate they discovered, etc. Sure, you can envision these elements yourself, but seeing them adds new dimension and character. Same goes for John’s code for cursing: “I’ll go like @#$% if it’s a mild curse… If it’s going to be a revolting curse, I’ll just put a three in front of it—like 3@#$%-- and then you’ll know it’s the raunchiest curse you can think of” (5). This makes John and the reader like co- conspirators; it felt like I was scheming with him, and it fosters a connection.

My favorite aspect of the story was the subtle unveiling of adult hypocrisy. Throughout their narratives, both John and Lorraine enumerate different ways they see their parents acting against the directions they give their own children. Never steal or accept free gifts! …But Lorraine’s mother helps herself to her patient’s belongings through some distorted sense of entitlement. Be yourself! …But John’s father only wants John to take the job he wants him to have, the one that is actually slowly stressing and killing him.

The friendship and chemistry between John and Lorraine is fantastic. Lorraine is the level-headed, serious teenage girl with insecurities. John is the charming and unruly boy in a man’s body, well aware of his good looks and the effect he has on people. The way that each chapter goes back and forth between their perspectives is wonderfully done, especially when they comment and reflect on what each wrote about the other in the previous chapter.  Their solid friendship and blooming romance is sweet and very authentic. Both characters are incredibly likable and believable; I wanted there to be more of this book, so I could see some more of the friction. I may just have to track down a copy of The Pigman’s Legacy

Favorite Quotes:
“I only hope I won’t be that kind of adult” (27).

“I felt sorry for the old man because people just don’t go around smiling like that all the time unless they’re mentally unbalanced or harboring extreme anxiety” (52-3).

“I’ve always wondered about those cases where a man and wife die within a short time of each other. Sometimes it’s only days. It makes me think that the love between a man and a woman must be the strongest thing in the world” (76).

“It’s sort of spooky when you start talking to God nowadays everybody thinks you’re nuts. They used to call you a prophet” (81).

“What did she want from me—to tell the truth all the time? To run around saying it did matter to me that I live in a world where you can grow old and be alone and have to get down on your hands and knees and beg for friends? A place where people just sort of forget about you because you get a little old and your mind’s a bit senile or silly?” (160).

“Didn’t she know how sick to my stomach it made me feel to know it’s possible to end your life with only a baboon to talk to? And maybe Lorraine and I were only a different kind of baboon in a way. Maybe we were all baboons for that matter—big blabbing baboons—smiling away and not really caring what was going on as long as there were enough peanuts bouncing around to think about” (161).

“The police and attendants moved calmly, surely, as if they were performing a ritual and had forgotten the meaning of it. I don’t think they ever knew the meaning of it.  I thought of machinery—automatic, constant, unable to be stopped” (164).

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Information about my copy for my own records:
Publication:  Paperback, First Harper Trophy Edition, 2005
Genre: Young Adult Lit, Coming-Of-Age
ISBN: 0-06-075735-3

Best. Book day. EVER.

Not only did I find some amazing bargains at Mr. K's Used Books today, but all of the books my love bought me that I've been dying to read came in the mail.

And much to my ecstatic surprise, to make this excellent book day even better, GoodReads messaged me saying I won an advanced copy of Meg Mitchell Moore's So Far Away: A Novel from a First Reads book giveaway!

YES! Envision me doing my most ridiculous happy dance.

Want to see a picture of my delicious new book piles? I thought you might:

Left pile, starting from top to bottom: Scott O'Dell's Island of Blue Dolphins, Sharon Creech's Heartbeat, Sharon Creech's The Wanderer, Pearl. S. Buck's The Good Earth, and Louis Rhead's Robin Hood
Right pile, t-b: Orson Scott Card's Ender's Shadow, E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey, Ursula K. Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea, Carrie Ryan's The Forest of Hands and Teeth, Susan Beth Pfeffer's Life As We Knew It, Richard Adams' Watership Down, and Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451

The only dilemma I face now is: where to begin?

"The more intelligent, the less sane."

Quotes from George Orwell's 1984

“Tragedy, he perceived, belonged to the ancient time, to a time when there were still privacy, love, and friendship, and when the members of a family stood by one another without needing to know the reason”  (30).

“It struck him that in moments of crisis one is never fighting against an external enemy but always against one’s own body…And it is the same, he perceived, in all seemingly heroic or tragic situations. On the battlefield, in the torture chamber, on a sinking ship, the issues that you are fighting for are always forgotten, because the body swells up until it fills the universe, and even when you are not paralyzed by fright or screaming with pain, life is a moment-to-moment struggle against hunger or cold or sleeplessness, against a sour stomach or an aching tooth” (102-3).

“’You’re only a rebel from the waist downwards.’ He told her. She thought this brilliantly witty and flung her arms around him in delight” (156).

“It was the product of a mind similar to his own, but enormously more powerful, more systematic, less fear-ridden. The best books, he perceived, are those that tell you what you know already” (200).

“It is not easy to become sane” (251).

“Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood” (252).

“What can you do against the lunatic who is more intelligent than yourself, who gives your arguments a fair hearing and then simply persists in his lunacy?” (262).

“’If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever’” (267).

“For the first time he perceived that if you want to keep a secret you must also hide it from yourself” (281).

Waiting v.s. Happiness

“Maybe you think you’ll be entitled to more happiness later by forgoing all of it now, but it doesn’t work that way. Happiness takes as much practice as unhappiness does. It’s by living that you live more. By waiting you wait more. Every waiting day makes your life a little less. Every lonely day makes you a little smaller. Every day you put off your life makes you less capable of living it” (276-7).

-Ann Brashares
Sisterhood Everlasting (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Book 5)
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