Genre: Young Adult

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Posted November 26, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Young Adult / 0 Comments

We Were Liars by E. LockhartTitle: We Were Liars (Goodreads)
Author: E. Lockhart
Published: Allen & Unwin, 2014
Pages: 225
Genres: Young Adult
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Meet Cadence (Cady) Sinclair Eastman; she is seventeen years old from a family that is so wealthy they spend their summers on their own private island. The summers are spent with her cousins Mirren and Johnny, plus her crush Gat. The four of them are so close they are collectively known as the Liars. However, there is a big secret within the family, a secret that has been kept from Cady. An accident when she was fifteen left Cady damaged and with some memory loss. What are they hiding?

I picked up this book because of the marketing campaign; see good marketing does sell books. Basically the concept behind the campaign was to read the book then lie about it; a great way to stop anyone from spoiling the fact that Cady’s grandfather is really a Russian sleeper spy. We Were Liars is this wonderfully secretive novel with a psychological element that slowly gets revealed. The way I view this book is if Daphne du Maurier (Rebecca) wrote a YA novel set in the world of the TV show Revenge.

There are a lot of people that loved this book and to be honest I wasn’t sure if I would be among them. I started off reading this book thinking there wasn’t anything special and it felt like privileged white kids with first world problems. However, like most people, I got to a point where everything clicked and I was floored. Everything started making so much more sense. As you can tell, this is a difficult novel to write about because I don’t want to give away the plot about the zombie apocalypse.

I am of two minds about the writing, on one hand it was pretty basic and I found it incredibly easy to rush through the novel and not miss anything important. However as things start to reveal themselves, you can think back to previous chapters and see all the subtle clues that were missed. In the end, I think E. Lockhart did a brilliant job of making the book so easy to read while packing in subtle evidence that The Sinclair family are just a big crime family. The subtlety worked really well throughout the novel and I feel like I was so blind, I would never have guessed that they were aliens, but the evidence was there.

I may joke about the ending and the fact that it was all a dream but I am just following their marketing campaign. I had a lot of fun reading this book; much like Gone Girl, the twist was done so well and We Were Liars kept me up at night as I desperately tried to finish the book. I am very surprised by this book and I wonder if re-reading this book would be any good. I can’t imagine going into the novel knowing what happens would be any fun, but I am not the kind of person that likes spoilers.

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

Posted November 21, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Young Adult / 0 Comments

Belzhar by Meg WolitzerTitle: Belzhar (Goodreads)
Author: Meg Wolitzer
Published: Simon & Schuster, 2014
Pages: 266
Genres: Magical Realism, Young Adult
My Copy: ARC from Publisher

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Life isn’t fair; if it was, Jam Gallahue wouldn’t be shipped off to boarding school and her British boyfriend would still be alive. Belzhar tells the story of Jam, a damaged girl who was sent off to a therapeutic boarding school in Velmont called The Wooden Barn. There she was enrolled into a mysterious class called Special Topics in English where she was assigned books by Sylvia Path. Part of her homework included writing in a journal which magical sends her back into her memories to help her reclaim her past.

Jam whose real name is Jamaica is a damaged teenager; no one seems to understand how she feels and what she is going through. The same way Esther Greenwood felt within The Bell Jar. Belzhar is a psychological novel that explores the themes from Sylvia Plath’s writing in a modern day YA novel. While this book focuses on the damage that losing a boyfriend can have (especially if he dies) there was something far more scarring that just wasn’t dealt with. The protagonist got her name, Jamaica from the place her parents conceived her; I don’t know about you but I find that is far more disturbing than losing a loved one (not really).

The book takes this idea found in The Bell Jar that Jam and the other people in this class are vacuum sealed in a world no one else understands. The ideas from The Bell Jar such as depression, loneliness and suffering all play out within Meg Wolitzer’s novel in a really interesting way. This is a unique form of literary criticism; it allows the reader to get a fundamental understanding into The Bell Jar on a very basic level.

I have read a few YA novels recently and they all had a psychological element in it that I want to talk about but I do not want to spoil the plot (See review for We Are Liars soon). This makes it really difficult, because there is so much to talk about but I am very conscious about spoilers. One thing I will talk about is the magical realism thread within the book; Belzhar is the magical place they go to in their memories and relive life before things got messed up. It is an interesting way to dive into the past and deal with issues. I found it a unique way to explore the complexities of the mind via this very simple plot device.

I am not too often on-board with a magical realism thread but as I have found with Haruki Murakami it becomes a useful tool in exploring the mind. When we think about our brain, it does not conform to the laws that govern reality and the magical realism allows the author to work with that. The travels into Belzhar were just a different way to experience a flashback and I quickly accepted with the way Meg Wolitzer did that. I was a little worried when I started but I am glad I persisted.

Belzhar makes me want to revisit The Bell Jar which is a fantastic book if you have never read it. I think the biggest praise I can give Meg Wolitzer is for the loving tenderness she had towards Sylvia Plath and her writing. I have borrowed Ariel from the library to experience some of Plath’s poetry and Belzhar has left me with a renewed appreciation for this author.

How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

Posted September 24, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Young Adult / 0 Comments

How to Build a Girl by Caitlin MoranTitle: How to Build a Girl (Goodreads)
Author: Caitlin Moran
Published: Harper Collins, 2014
Pages: 352
Genres: Young Adult
My Copy: ARC from Edelweiss

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Take to trip back to the 1990s, a time I am all too familiar with; the music was great but being a teenager was not all that it was cracked up to be. Johanna Morrigan is a fourteen year old who is unhappy with her life. That was until she decided to reinvent herself. By sixteen she was a sharp tongued goth, aspiring music journalist who went by the name Dolly Wilde (named after the socialite). How to Build a Girl is the debut novel by Caitlin Moran who is more popularly known for her views towards feminism in books like Moranthology and How to Be a Woman.

I will be honest; the only reason I picked up this book was because it was often described as The Bell Jar if it was written by Rizzo from Grease. I’m a fan of The Bell Jar and this was enough to get me curious about this novel. I can’t say I have ever been a fan of Caitlin Moran or her view points but I think her underlying message that no one should be judged for being who they are is something I can get behind.

Moran has made it clear that this is far from an autobiographical novel; her parents were never like Morrigan’s parents. However there is an element of this novel that probably reflects her teenage years. I think the teenage years are often a journey of self-discovery and reinvention and this was the main reason I wanted to read this novel.

It doesn’t matter if I agree with Johanna Morrigan’s choices and decisions; this was about her finding herself. The whole notion of self-discovery being similar to reinventing yourself is an interesting one and I enjoyed watching Dolly Wilde evolve into the person she wanted to be. Her parents and family often got in the way and tried to unintentionally (or maybe it was intentional) mould her personality. This was just an interesting journey to watch evolve.

I’m not going to talk about the feminist views within this book, it is not my place to agree or disagree. How to Build a Girl reminds me of the TV show Girls (or what I have seen of it) and if you are a fan of this show then maybe you will enjoy the novel. My biggest problem with the book was not with the feminist themes but with the writing itself; it never seemed to work for me and I felt like the intent was to shock rather than tell a good story. It is a shame, the premise is excellent and I could have enjoyed the book if more time was spent improving the proses and editing.

I wanted to love this book; the whole coming of age, self-discovery, and sexual awakening topic has always been an interesting one to me. This book started off with the best intentions but it lost its way, both in plot and writing. The rise and fall of Dolly Wilde (the character in this book, not Oscar Wilde’s niece) was worth reading but there is so much in the middle that could have been taken out and the novel would have ended up being less than a hundred pages. But these are my opinions; there are people that loved this book, I wasn’t one of them.

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Posted August 9, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Science Fiction, Young Adult / 3 Comments

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew SmithTitle: Grasshopper Jungle (Goodreads)
Author: Andrew Smith
Published: Hardie Grant Egmont, 2014
Pages: 441
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Sixteen-year-old Austin Szerba is just a normal teenager, who spends most of his time hanging out with his best friend Robby and his girlfriend Shann. There isn’t much to do in this small Iowa town except skate, smoke and dream of the day they can escape; that was until Austin and Robby accidentally brought on the end of the world. Now there is an unstoppable army of six-foot tall praying mantises on the rise that could end the existent of humanity.

“History is full of decapitations, and Iowa is no exception.”

Grasshopper Jungle is told as the history of the end of the world from the perspective of Austin Szerba. Unlike a diary, Austin prefers to document the entire history, interweaving the story of the story of his Polish legacy with the ending of the world, feeling it is important to have an account of what happened in this small town. This young adult novel is a cheesy sci-fright survival story, full of outlandish monsters and comical situations.

The beauty of this novel doesn’t come from the wacky plot it is with the protagonist himself. While the world is ending, Austin is struggling with his hormones and sexuality. At the heart of this novel is just a sixteen-year-old kid trying to make sense of his feelings; his hormones are always racing and everything under the sun seems to make him horny. Stuck in a small town mid-western where his Christian school had harsh words to him for reading The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier because it featured masturbating Catholics makes for an interesting backdrop. You have a situation where no one wants to talk about sexuality, but condemning masturbation and gay-bashing is perfectly acceptable.

“Stupid people should never read books.”

This is the type of book I like to read; it may have a bizarre plot happening but then it is also exploring an internal struggle. For Austin and most teenagers, their budding sexuality can be a confusing time; emotions are running wild and it is very easy to confuse on feeling for another. Robby has identified himself as a homosexual and it becomes clear in the novel that he has feeling for Austin. This makes it tricky; who does Austin talk to about his confusing feelings? He can’t ask his best friend, his girlfriend, a teacher or most adults. There was an awkward and funny scene within the novel where he attempts to ask his father.

One of the biggest things I took away from this novel is to do with labels; Robby identifies as a homosexual but doesn’t let that term define him. For obvious reasons he has to keep his sexual preferences a secret from the town but is out to the people he trusts. While Austin is struggling it has been suggested on a few occasions not to stop trying to define his sexuality and just be himself. This is a beautiful theme to have within this book and I would love to see the entire world take this on board. Obviously as a straight male, my sexuality was never a defining feature and I’m probably not the right person to be advocating this, but it is a great message.

“Do you think I’m queer, Rob?” I asked.
“I don’t care if you’re queer,” Robby said. “Queer is just a word. Like orange. I know who you are. There’s no one word for that.

I’m glad to have found a YA novel exploring such an important issue and I wish I knew of more like this. I feel like the majority of YA novels are not offering the help that a teenager might need. As an adult, it was interesting to see just how this book explored the topic of sexuality and continuously suggested to not let it define Austin. Sure, there is still a struggle and he is facing conflicting emotions; as a reader we watch him bumble along and make a fool of himself countless times, but this captures teenage life. I find myself being very impressed with Grasshopper Jungle, it is a fun and enjoyable read but at the heart of it, it has an important message.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Posted June 29, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Book of the Month, Dystopia, Young Adult / 6 Comments

Divergent by Veronica RothTitle: Divergent (Goodreads)
Author: Veronica Roth
Series: Divergent #1
Published: Harper Collins, 2011
Pages: 489
Genres: Dystopia, Young Adult
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

A futuristic, post-apocalyptic Chicago is where the dystopian world of Divergent is set; where everyone is divided into five factions. At 16 you are required to take an aptitude test; this will determine which faction you are best suited for. Abnegation are selfless, Amity are peaceful, Candour are honest, Dauntless are brave and Erudite are intelligent. Following the aptitude test comes the Choosing Day (terrible name) where you are required to pick which faction you wish to belong to based on your score and personal preference. For some, like Celeb Prior this means giving up his family and moving from Abnegation to Erudite.

The novel, Divergent follows Beatrice Prior (later known as Tris) who is one of those rare people who have to hide the fact that the aptitude test was inconclusive. In this world she is known as divergent and would be considered an outcast and a danger to society if this was to come out. Tris’ test shows she has an aptitude towards three factions; Dauntless, Erudite and Abnegation. She picks Dauntless where she is trained up to be courageous and reckless, tools she believes maybe useful if her test scores ever come out.

I read this novel as a social critique; the idea of cliques and groups taken to the extreme. You know what I’m talking about; society likes to create rivals, in sports teams, smart phones, gaming consoles, etc., but more importantly when it comes to DC verse Marvel comic’s social-political stands. In this world the Abnegation are the governing body, since they are the selfless they are tasked with looking after everyone. However the Erudite are conspiring to take control, and a step that they believe will advance the world both socially and technologically.

This makes the novel sound more complex that it actually is; in reality I found that Veronica Roth liked to wave the symbolism in the readers face forcing them to take notice. It is like a child who is proud at what she has produced; jumping up and down and explaining everything detail over and over again in the hopes that we will think she is brilliant. The symbolism is prominent in the story, she didn’t need to try and draw extra attention to it. Most readers are smart enough to figure it out and those who don’t are only interested in the plot.

Take the title of the novel and the factions, if you look at abnegation, amity, candour, dauntless, erudite and divergent in the dictionary you pretty much how the entire book worked out already. However Roth reminded us again and again what each word meant. Reminds me of that old writing tip ‘show, don’t tell’. While this is not always true, I feel within the context of Divergent, it would have been a better solution.

There are a lot of interesting themes within the novel and I really wish Roth had let people discover them on their own; I don’t like having everything pointed out to me. The whole concept of social structures and classes would have given a literary theorist in the school of Marxism a lot to work with. There are other themes including courage verse recklessness, power, choices, secrets and even guilt that made the novel bearable.

While the novel has a protagonist fighting against a totalitarian state, the book is full of Christian themes and concepts. At times you can see Abnegation being depicted as weird/cult-like faction in the back drop of a controlling society but then they come through as righteous and merciful. There is a Christian misconception that stems from the Age of Enlightenment, which seems relevant in some radical churches that still believe that intellectualism is a dangerous thing. This comes across in the novel as well as some other Christian ideals. Veronica Roth states she is a Christian but has also claimed that Divergent is not a religious novel. She even believes that most Christians would consider the novel to be profane. It is unclear if Roth is an advocate for intellectualism or warning the reader of its dangers.

Yet another issue I found with Divergent was the characters and world building felt a little flat; I think Roth spent too much time explaining everything that the plot and the setting suffered. I didn’t care what happened to any of the characters; in fact thought they were all two dimensional, which is possibly the case with most of the characters. The idea of each faction just acting like a giant cookie cutter, forcing everyone to fit into that mould is clear.  The divergents (I’m not going to name them) should have been richer, more fleshed out characters. The dystopian world borrows heavily from 1984 and The Hunger Games although it sometimes forgets this and reverts back to a more generic present day world. Then realising the book has gotten off track reverts to borrow again from previous dystopian novels.

Finally I would like to focus a little on the feminist qualities of Divergent, since reading The Fictional Woman this seems to be an area of focus for me. The concept of a woman trying to figure out her place in the world is a positive step for equality; however Divergent also reverts to two old archetypes that need to stop. I’m talking about the idea of a wise intelligent older woman being depicted as a witch or evil character and the female heroine needs to have a female enemy. Divergent does tackle the idea of what happens to a woman when she becomes more successful than the men she is competing against, and while it is not pretty it is a very real issue that needs to be looked at more often.

I would have liked this novel a lot more if the message was subtle and ambiguous; I just feel like everything got over done. As a reader I like to look for the messages but if the author hits me over the head with it and then proceeds to explain everything I lose interest. Dystopian fiction has a unique ability to tackle social issues and just because a book is aimed for a young adult audience doesn’t mean they need to be everything explained to them. I have to wonder how many YA lovers read the book for the themes rather than the plot. I suspect the majority of them read for the story and they probably prefer not to be stepped through themes either. If Veronica Roth left the themes in place and focused on the plot, this may have been a better book.

New Moon by Stephenie Meyer

Posted October 28, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Romance, Young Adult / 2 Comments

New Moon by Stephenie MeyerTitle: New Moon (Goodreads)
Author: Stephenie Meyer
Series: Twilight #2
Published: Little Brown and Company, 2006
Pages: 565
Genres: Romance, Young Adult
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

The most important thing in Bella Swan’s life is Edward Cullen (eye roll). So much so that college is plan B, but now he is gone, in an effort to keep her safe. But she is not safe, there are vampires out for revenge and since the Cullen’s are no longer around, Bella is their target. In comes Jacob Black; young, handsome and willing to protect Bella.

If you have read my review on Twilight, you must be wondering why I decided to read New Moon. Torture, joining the social commentary or most likely peer pressure. If you follow me on twitter or have read my post on reading Twilight then you know the fun I had with live tweeting the entire book in all its weirdness. This is what happened again with New Moon (see below for a full read of those tweets) and I think this was the only reason why I decided to continue, because truth be told, I hated the books but really enjoyed making sarcastic remarks about them.

Let’s have a quick look at the book. I’m not going to go into deep analysis of New Moon; I would have to read the book closer for that and really I only skimmed it to race through it. This is not to say I didn’t read the book, I am well aware of the plot and the key themes but this book had so much padding that skimming was the only real way to get through it. There was a paragraph dedicated to the voice of Edward Cullen and almost a full chapter where Bella and Alice flew to Europe (nothing else happened on the flight).

Bella is as always so co-dependent that it makes me sick; when Edward left she latched on to Jacob. She tells herself that she is not capable of falling in love again, like a whiny heartbroken teenager that thinks this is the end of her life and yet she is happy to lead Jacob on. There even was a time when it felt like she was going to be co-dependent on Alice; this would have made it more interesting.

Jacob started off as a whiny little lovesick puppy following Bella around everywhere. Then when it was revealed he was a werewolf he turned into a real asshole, too cool to hang out with a girl because he was in a gang. He went from one extreme to another and I just hated Jacob, there was a joke made by one of my Twitter followers of this being character development and it is sad to say this is the extent of development in the entire novel.

Apart from the constant angsty whining (and I normally love angst) this novel never really went anywhere, it was just 500 pages of treading water. The major problems I had with New Moon are (and I’m picking my top couple out of a long list), firstly the lack of consistency. Twilight and New Moon seem to contradict each other in so many ways; in book one Bella got sick at the smell of blood but in New Moon she was bleeding all over the place frequently and never seems to get sick. Then there was the fact that Stephenie Meyer, instead of doing a little research,  ignored any mythology and just made up her own. This really annoyed me, some slight changes in the vampire/werewolf mythology is acceptable if you are going to use it but to make a vampire sparkle so you can spend pages on how much Edward is like diamonds is ridiculous.

I hate to say this but I will probably read Eclipse and Breaking Dawn just to live tweet them, I don’t expect to like the books but I can’t help reading them. Obviously I pay them out but I do try to analyse them to see if there is anything interesting there; wishful thinking. I will need long breaks in between the novels but you can look forward to reading my thoughts in the very distant future. I doubt I will ever like this series but at least I have evidence to back up my claims.

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Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan

Posted October 17, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Young Adult / 0 Comments

Boy Meets Boy by David LevithanTitle: Boy Meets Boy (Goodreads)
Author: David Levithan
Published: Harper Collins, 2003
Pages: 223
Genres: Young Adult
My Copy: ARC from Netgalley

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Paul is a sophomore in a high school unlike any other. He meets Noah, and thinks he is the one, the person he will spend the rest of his life with. That was until he blew it, the school bookie has the odds 12 to 1 against him. But Paul is determined to not let this get him down; he knows what he wants and will go after it.

This is your typical romantic comedy done in a different way. I want to talk about the world first; in this utopian world sexuality is not an issue. Even in the high school, the homecoming queen is also the quarterback (Her name Infinite Darlene, but her parents called her Daryl) and every click is divided into gay stereotype, except for the straight people who seem to be bunched into an (almost outcast) group. The school has a gay-straight alliance which was formed to teach the straight people to dance. Everything is too perfect; no one struggled with their sexuality or identity.

I’m not sure if it is just me improving as a reader but I spent most of this novel questioning everything and not enjoying the clichés and ease of these people’s lives. No one seemed to have any major issues and for a high school that seems too fake; this is why I’m convinced they live in the utopian world where everything is perfect. These students are highly intelligent and seem to have everything worked out, the only struggles they have are the ones needed to drive the typical romcom plot.

My first experience with David Levithan was his co-written novel Will Grayson, Will Grayson with John Green and while I enjoyed that book enough to try his novels there was just too much that bothered me about this one. I’m assuming this is bad news for any other John Green books that I might read, their styles are very similar but I just couldn’t get past of the unanswered questions that I asked.

I’m glad there are romantic comedies between two guys and I think more GSM (Gender and/or sexual minority or LGBT if you prefer) novels are needed. I just don’t like that no one seems to have real struggles; I want this in all characters. I never expect a teenager in particular to have everything worked out and with their budding sexuality there are so many complex emotions that could be dealt with in a book like this.

One other thing that really bothered me in this book was the excess of nods. I began to think of all the characters as bobble heads rather than humans. It is like excess winking in novels, no human nods or winks that much in real life, why do they do it in books? I know with nodding it is just a way to show that a character agrees but if it is used too much it just feels too unrealistic.

This is an entertaining book that I just had too many issues with, not enough to never try Levithan again (still want to read Two Boys Kissing) but it really bothered me. I know many people loved this book and his style still feels similar to John Green, so I think it’s just me. I will love to know what worked or didn’t work for the people that have read this book. I don’t think I’m missing anything, so why is this much loved YA novel so difficult to enjoy.

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

Posted August 9, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Romance / 0 Comments

Twilight by Stephenie MeyerTitle: Twilight (Goodreads)
Author: Stephenie Meyer
Series: Twilight #1
Published: Little Brown and Company, 2005
Pages: 434
Genres: Romance, Young Adult
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: Book Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

I don’t think I need to tell people what this book is about; rather I need to explain my actions,which I have done in a blog post called Reading Twilight, where you can read what made me pick this book up and just how crazy I was. Also you can read my live tweeting of the book which was the only way I was able to get through the story without rage quitting.

Twilight is an escapist book, plain and simple; I don’t fit in the demographic of this book so I’m reading it and looking at how this would translate in real life and not the fantasy.  I want to take the time and look at the book as well as the difference between reality and the fantasy. I might be a little harsh  and I’m not trying to make anyone that enjoys this book and the fantasy feel bad; this is just how I see the book.

First of all let’s look at Isabella Swan; the everywoman of the book but this is assuming that women are post-feminist, co-dependent, quick to fall in love women that are full of angst or have a morbid obsession with death. I’ve been told that women do fantasise about the post-feminist lifestyle but in reality most of them don’t want to be stuck in the kitchen. The little descriptions we do have about Bella has been made out to be a needy woman with no notion of independence and what she really wants; I hated her from the start. Apparently the lack of descriptions about Belle is so that female readers can put themselves in her shoes and live out this fantasy but really do people even like Bella, let alone be in her shoes?

Then you have the love interest, Edward Cullen who I tend to associate with Mr Rochester (whose name is also Edward) since I know there is this link to the Brontë sisters that tries to be made but really comparing the two feels futile, the only links I see have to do with sexuality and proto/post-feminism. I get the sense that Edward Cullen is supposed to be this Byronic hero but all I see is the type of man  woman need to run away from; a jealous, controlling asshole that stalks his girlfriend. Now the Byronic hero is as Lord Macaulay describes it “a man proud, moody, cynical, with defiance on his brow, and misery in his heart, a scorner of his kind, implacable in revenge, yet capable of deep and strong affection.” While there are similarities between Edward Cullen and the Byronic hero (to me anyway) he doesn’t really fit the mould.

Someone told me that the blood in Twilight is a metaphor of adolescent sexuality which is interesting and explains why Stephenie Meyer went to all that effort in explaining why Belle got nauseous at the sight and smell of blood. This brings up another fantasy; the older more experienced man. While I don’t really want to compare this book to other novels (I’m sorry Brontë’s and the whole Romantic era) but this is almost like a polar opposite to Tampa. One explores the fantasy of a younger partner; getting them before they have been tainted by the world which is problematic because that person ends up being the one to corrupt and break that young man. Twilight looks at the older partner; but not in the same in-depth way. this plays out the fantasy and it’s up to the reader to look for the problems with a naive woman dating an older man (hint reverse the roles in Tampa or read Lolita). I’m not saying it doesn’t work, because it does work; I’m just looking at Twilight critically and wanted to look at fantasy verses reality.

I’m sure there are positive themes within this novel that you can explore like, sacrifices you make for the one you love, true love conquers all and even overcoming the bad within you to be a better person or vampire. I think those themes are in the book but for me they feel problematic, firstly Edward continues to tell Bella that she should run away but they never do and I got frustrated with them repeating the same conversation over and over and never making the sacrifice for the good of the other. Then I don’t believe this is a good example of true love, they hardly knew each other and they were madly in love, they never sacrifice for the good of the other and they are co-dependant, jealous, stalkers; to me this is not true love, this is a teenage relationship or something creepy. Finally overcoming the bad within to be a better person, the only example of that is the vampires eat animals rather than humans.

I’m going to overlook the obvious problem with the vampire mythology because it’s been done to death but I want to leave you with one thought (which you can answer in the comments if you like). Stephenie Meyer obviously has an interest in the romantic era and the Brontë sisters but is Twilight reflecting the ideas made by the romantic poets or has it missed the point completely? As you can see I didn’t like this book at all and I read it too fast to try and pull any more critical thoughts from the novel, but I think I have enough ammunition against Twilight. I hope I didn’t offend the people that enjoy this book, it’s escapism and I’m reading it critically so that might be my problem.

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Posted July 12, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Young Adult / 0 Comments

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman AlexieTitle: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Goodreads)
Author: Sherman Alexie
Published: Little Brown and Company, 2009
Pages: 230
Genres: Young Adult
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian tells the story of Arnold ‘Junior’ Spirit, a 14 year old cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation who has hydrocephalus (an excess of cerebrospinal fluid in his skull). Junior leaves his school on the ‘rez’ to attend an all-white high school in a nearby farm town in the hopes to gain a better education. The only other Indian at the school is the mascot and Junior finds himself in a whole new world.

I’m really not sure why Sherman Alexie wrote Junior with hydrocephalus, or why he was given poor eyesight, experiences frequent seizures, stutters, and a lisp. It all felt pretty excessive and only really played a factor in the first couple of chapters of this novel. We establish the fact he is different and then it’s a non-issue for the rest of the book. Going to an all-white school was enough to make him different to the rest, so the point really felt redundant. I had a feeling this was a semi-autobiographical novel so I did seem research on Alexie and found out he too was born with hydrocephalus. Alexie underwent brain surgery at six months old. The surgeons expected that he would not survive and if he did he would have a permanent mental disability. So that explains why it was in the story but that lead me wondering at what point does this book remain a novel if the plot is the same. I don’t know enough about Sherman Alexie’s life to know but it was something to consider.

I picked up this novel because I heard it being compared to The Perks of Being a Wallflower one too many times. A similarity that feels stretched; the books follow a similar plot, a realistic teenage life for a protagonist on the outside looking in. There are the same reasons the books were banned in schools, a tragic death of character, alcohol and bullying. That’s where the similarities seem to stop (unless you count first person narrative a similarity but then that would cover a lot of books), The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was also banned due to content referencing racism, poverty and masturbation. These are a majority of issues teenagers face and I’m often confused at why people don’t want teenagers to read about the issues they are going through. I’m not a parent so I can’t really judge.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian not only looks at the normal teenage issues but really wants to focus on the cultural differences. Junior’s daring move to a new school for a better education may seem to be the right choice for him but there are different obstacles he has never faced before. He has to try and bridge the two cultures, but neither side fully understands the other. This inevitably leads to fights and confrontations and eventually they start to understand each other a little better. The friends he eventually makes at the school are middle class and he isn’t; they expect him to have money due to the casinos on the reservation but in reality the mismanagement and location means no one on the reservation is making money. Arnold is ashamed of this fact and tries to hide it as best as he can, which leads to an economical clash as well as a cultural one.

The big message I got out of this novel and I think it is an important one, is the desire Junior has to be a better person. He couldn’t accept using textbooks that are over thirty years old and he put himself into the world and into the deep end (so to speak) just so he can get a better education. The idea of taking a risk to reap the rewards are often never really discussed in Young Adult literature and it was great to see such a positive message been told.

I personally didn’t think too much of this novel, I wanted it to be more like The Perks of Being a Wallflower or maybe a John Green novel and I never really got over the fact it wasn’t. There were so many interesting themes and messages within this book but I never felt like the narrative worked. It felt more like a book aimed at younger teenagers but this novel is definitely not suitable for a twelve year old. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time seems well received by the masses and for a good reason, I’m just the odd person out which seems to be a regular occurrence.

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

Posted June 9, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Young Adult / 0 Comments

The 5th Wave by Rick YanceyTitle: The 5th Wave (Goodreads)
Author: Rick Yancey
Series: The Fifth Wave #1
, 2013
Pages: 460
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

The 1st Wave took out half a million people.
The 2nd Wave put that number to shame.
The 3rd Wave lasted a little longer, twelve weeks… four billion dead.
In the 4th Wave, you can’t trust that people are still people. 
And the 5th Wave? No one knows. But it’s coming.

The aliens have landed; with each wave there are less saviours. Cassie is on the run, not just from the visitors but from everyone else as well. The 4th wave has destroyed all trust and the only people she knows she can trust were her Father and brother. That was until she met Evan Walker.

I’ve said it before; I’ve never really gotten into the whole Young Adult craze; but I keep trying. Alien invasion, I might try some of that. The 5th Wave is your typical run of the mill Young Adult post apocalyptic novel, but the whole time I spent reading this I wondered if this book was written for young adults. This leads me to question if any of the more recent books are written for teenagers. In this growing genre it seems that the average age of a YA reader is not a teenager.

Skynet, X-Wings, Close Encounters, they are all references I don’t expect young adults to make. I do hope they know what Star Wars and Star Trek are or even who Terminator and Darth Vader are, but sometimes I wonder about that too. This feels like they are trying to go for the nostalgic readers much like Ready Player One did but I’m not sure it worked as well here.

This was a really quick read for me, I think I knocked it out in a few hours, so I don’t want to criticise the entertainment factor but there was a lot in the book that I just didn’t like. Children being trained up in combat? Sure, the kids today wouldn’t have read Enders Game but if you are catering for the nostalgic reader try not hiding the fact that you are pretty much stealing huge ideas from other books. I know Hunger Games was a big hit and it is pretty awesome to have a kick ass heroine but I felt like Cassie was too much of a Katniss photocopy and there wasn’t much that was original about her. While we are at it, please stop with the love triangles, it’s very rare to find one that is done in an interesting and unique way; why are they in every YA book?

To me the characters in this book were very underdeveloped, Cassie in particular which is annoying when she is the main protagonist. I liked Evan in parts but I did think that some depth to all the characters would have helped boost my enjoyment. Then there is the plot; it was predictable and never surprising. Entertaining, yes, but there has to be something more to a book, I want to be both entertained and left with thoughts of the book rolling around in my head for days afterwards.

For me it felt like Rick Yancey read all the popular dystopian/post apocalyptic young adult novels then went and watched all those 1980 Science Fiction movies from his childhood and just mashed them all together. Taking his favourite parts from each plot and using it in his own piece and guess what? It’s a triology.

I was entertained, I was nostalgic and it was a fun book to read but now that I’ve had a little vent, I can say I really want something different from this genre. Alien Invasion, yes this is something I don’t think has been done, unless you count The Host (which I don’t). I do like that this novel is a little dark and raw but it really held back in my opinion.

There isn’t enough nostalgia for my taste and the language, sexual references and violence make me wonder just how old you need to be for YA? 15? I’m sure kids will think this is just as fun as sneaking into watch a movie for over 18 year olds but to call this the “Young Adult novel of the year” I feel maybe stretching it a little too far. But what do I know; I’m just that crazy bitter old man that reviews books on the Internet.