Unspoken: The Lynburn Legacy, by Sarah Rees Brennan

Review:

Unspoken - Sarah Rees Brennan

Kami Glass lives in a small town in the Cotswolds of England where the Lynburns, an old family with deep and mysterious roots in the community, have just returned. People are unhappy about it, including Kami’s mother, but Kami doesn’t care: she’s an aspiring reporter on the trail of a story for her high school paper (founded by herself and reluctant best friend, Angela), which becomes even more fascinating (and dangerous) when she comes across an animal sacrifice in the woods.

Kami has a secret of her own: she has a sort of imaginary friend with whom she communicates in her mind. This (male) friend has his own problems, and the two “reach” for each other psychically in times of need. This friend, of course, turns out to be real and a Lynburn. I anticipated as much but was still surprised by whom it turned out to be and when the reveal was made. The two struggle with the reality that the other is an actual person; their strange intimacy is not always welcome. Their bond turns out to be magical in nature and tied to the Lynburns and Kami’s family.

Threats in town escalate, and Kami’s at the center. In the meantime, she’s also at the center of love triangle involving the two Lynburn boys. The triangle isn’t terribly emphasized, but Kami’s relationship with her former imaginary companion yo-yos between easy repartee and angsty denial of feelings. It got old.

Somehow I didn’t feel involved enough in the mystery, and the tension didn’t come across as it should. In part this may be because, as in other YA I’ve read, the story is somewhat rushed or condensed, including the quicksilver of the characters’ changing emotions.

There’s some fine prose, one of the book’s saving graces, and lots of banter. It’s not quite as successful as Whedon dialog or Veronica Mars, but it can be funny. It also got to be a bit much.

Kami’s also one of those typical YA heroines whose friends are gorgeous, and she’s supposedly less pretty but still somehow at the center of a love triangle involving the new hot guy. One of the most sincere moments is when Kami observes how each of her younger brothers is a favorite of her parents’, leaving her odd person out.

I like YA but am coming to find it has to be exceptional to even be okay for me. Or maybe I just wasn’t in the mood!

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Unspoken: The Lynburn Legacy, by Sarah Rees Brennan

Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher

Review:

Thirteen Reasons Why - Jay Asher

I’ve had this book forever but was prompted to finally read it by the series adaptation that just came to Netflix.

(Spoiler-free until the note.)

The most impressive element of this book is the fact that it takes on toxic masculinity and rape culture head on. It’s the sort of book that I’m not sure would have existed when I was going through high school. That alone makes it a relevant, disturbing, but necessary read for students (and teachers, counselors).

The story is divided between protagonist Clay’s perspective and Hannah’s, the girl at the center of the narrative who committed suicide. One day Clay finds a package containing seven cassette tapes, which he must pass on to the next person spoken about on the tapes (one side per person). Each person had a role in Hannah’s downward spiral, so the book is set up as a mystery. What happened to Hannah? Why did she kill herself?

Each chapter takes on one tape, and as he listens, Clay follows the map Hannah made and slipped in his locker before she died that marks key spots in her story. It was sometimes difficult for me to engage with this structure; someone wandering around listening to audio tapes isn’t all that dynamic. I liked the idea of the book’s structure but not necessarily its execution.

(SPOILERS) I’m also disappointed in the revelation of Clay’s role once he reaches his own tape. I understand the choice to keep Clay a “good guy” in the reader’s eyes since his is the point of view we’re following, but I think the story would be more impactful if there was something he did or didn’t do that forced him to reevaluate his own actions or inaction. He does regret leaving Hannah alone, but it’s when she asks him to, which felt a bit problematic because generally when a girl tells you to leave, YOU SHOULD LEAVE, so technically Clay did the right thing. He blames himself for not helping her, for not persisting, but it feels like he’s making Hannah’s pain about him.

Clay also feels guilty and angry at himself for not standing up to others when it comes to how girls are treated, and by the end, in the last scene, we’re to understand that will change (in contrast to another person on the tapes he runs into earlier, who still seems incapable of understanding his role–or won’t acknowledge it). Though there are girls among the thirteen reasons, there’s a way in which their roles enact rape culture and patriarchy (not that this makes them beyond blame). At the same time, the potential saviors the narrative suggests could have made the difference are boys/men, which both fairly places the responsibility on their shoulders–but also suggests the old man-as-rescuer trope. (END SPOILERS)

Regardless of my concerns, I’m grateful there’s a book like this out there, tackling these subjects, and I’m interested in how the show on Netflix adapts its particular structure.

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Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher

Kill the Boy Band, Goldy Moldavsky

Review:

Kill the Boy Band - Goldy Moldavsky

What an absolute riot this book was–when it wasn’t breaking my heart.

If you’ve ever been a fan of anything (especially a teen girl fan) and participated in fandom, you will recognize these characters and some of their behavior. The lingo, the friendships borne of obsessing over the same band/show/books/whatever, the fanfic, the love-hate relationship between you and the object of your fannish devotion–Moldavsky captures it all in prose that made me laugh hard at least once a page.

The book is comic but blackly so. The protagonist (who goes unnamed, though she tells those who ask a variety of names from 80s movies) and her three fellow fans, including her pretty and popular best friend, “accidentally” kidnap the least popular member of fictional British boy band The Ruperts (all named, you guessed it, Rupert). Things quickly spiral out of control, and the protagonist, who’s “the sensible one,” struggles to get a grip on the situation and defy her friends, about whom she realizes some unsettling things. That’s where the heartbreak comes in. She has recently lost her father, and her Ruperts obsession has clearly become her lifeline. By the end of the book she’s doubting her own sanity.

The author represents fandom lovingly and fairly, including its downsides: using fandom as a crutch, feeding on fame as a fan rather than the object of your devotion, fandom’s temporality–some day you won’t care or will be embarrassed. As a fan myself, I can’t say I was ever offended; I enjoyed the accurate portrayal and the nuances of fan interactions and feelings that the author captures so well. I love that she doesn’t define every bit of fannish jargon (e.g. “stans/stanning”), though it’s always clear from context. I love that each girl has her favorite Rupert and role as a fan in a group of fannish friends (the leader, the one with connections, the one with money and access), and that The Ruperts feel like a fully realized band and fandom, complete with a secretly gay member who’s dating a girl as a beard. Social media plays a central role, but it’s not overdone.

This book is fun and demented and worth a read even if you don’t think of yourself as particularly fannish. Best of all, it doesn’t put the girls down for being fans.

If nothing else, you will laugh hysterically at what’s in Apple’s suitcase…

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Kill the Boy Band, Goldy Moldavsky

The School for Good and Evil #3: The Last Ever After

Review:

The School for Good and Evil #3: The Last Ever After - Soman Chainani

Rereading my previous reviews of the first two books in this YA fantasy trilogy, my issues remain unchanged in terms of execution: pacing, dramatic moments that don’t make a big enough impact, and murky worldbuilding. However, this book is my least favorite of the series because, unlike the first two, it doesn’t subvert fairytale tropes in as interesting a way. Although the final message–that one doesn’t need a love interest to be happy–is solid and probably still unique for such a story, I miss the play with gender and sexuality present in the first couple books. In the end, it’s also still unclear to me what this world’s view of Evil actually is.

 

Does it sound like I’m being too serious and picky for a YA novel? Really it’s just difficult to discuss a book that does question some major storytelling dichotomies without getting heavy. But there are also so many amazing YA novels and worlds out there that we know what the genre can do.

 

The book still surprised me, as they all have, and Agatha in particular is a complex heroine, with many admirable and relatable moments. She has an inner strength that it’s part of Sophie’s journey to discover in herself. However, I struggled with a key sequence where Sophie and Agatha feel very suddenly to have changed course. It was also a pain to read Agatha and Tedros’s parts in the beginning; they’re annoying as hell as they bicker. A lot of the comedy falls flat for me.

 

I see this book is highly rated on amazon, with many saying it’s their favorite of the trilogy. I can’t agree, but when the movie comes out, I’ll look forward to the adaptation as these books have felt more like movies from the start.

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The School for Good and Evil #3: The Last Ever After

The First Time Rats Saw God

Review:

Rats Saw God - Rob Thomas

Rob Thomas is known to me first and foremost as the creator of Veronica Mars and its titular heroine, one of my favorite television shows and characters. If I had to choose one character that I wished were real, it would be Veronica. That’s saying a lot; I love countless fictional characters to distraction.

 

A highlight of the show is Veronica’s caustic wit. Other characters are funny (e.g. Logan, Mac), but there’s something about a tiny, blonde, teenage girl who used to be on the pep squad cutting people down to size with a sharp tongue (or bantering with her father, friends, or boyfriends)–after suffering the murder of her best friend, the abandonment of her mother, the destruction of her father’s reputation, and rape–that is unique and paradoxically pleasing for a female character especially.

 

Rats Saw God and its protagonist, Steve York, display the same jaded wit, and it’s the best feature of the book. Before VM, Thomas wrote YA novels, and his grasp of high school and teenage life is strong. He taught high school journalism, and his experience is evident.

 

Like Veronica, Steve has recently gone through some shit (less serious than Veronica, but just as devastating, and, as I like to say, suffering is not a competition). The conceit of the book is that in the present, Steve is doing horribly; he’s a stoner flunking out despite obvious intelligence and past academic success. He is on the verge of not graduating and must somehow make up his English credit. His guidance counselor asks him to write 100 pages (unthinkable for a high schooler–hell, for an undergrad), in chunks each week, of anything he likes. Steve complies, so the flashbacks to how Steve got where he is take the form of his first person writing.

 

The back-and-forth between present and past comes in quick bites, generally. We’re to understand that writing is helping Steve move on from what happened back in Houston (I won’t spoil what that is, but from the beginning it’s clear it has to do with his then girlfriend, Dub, and his father, whom Steve refers to as “the astronaut,” after his famous profession). The progression wasn’t always clear to me (like how and why Steve became interested in another girl in the present), and I found myself more engaged by the past. When the source of Steve’s heartbreak is revealed, it’s upsetting, but given the nature of the shock, it feels unexplored. Steve and Dub never deal with each other significantly face-to-face either. While this makes sense given Steve’s character especially, it still left me hanging. I could’ve used another 50 pages.

 

If you’re a VM fan, you’ll recognize the book’s title (in the book’s context, it’s part of the coveted yearbook photo for Steve’s extracurricular, GOD–Grace Order of Dadaists), referenced in season two. You’ll also recognize the name of Steve’s girlfriend, Wanda Varner, who goes by “Dub,” from a season one episode in which that Wanda ran for student president but lost and also turned out to be a snitch. She’s not the most trustworthy here either, but that doesn’t mean you don’t like her until the end.

 

Thomas’s protagonists tend to be whip-smart and jaded. For me, this is ultimately much more interesting when that character is a girl.

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The First Time Rats Saw God