Four Quickie Reviews
I don't review all the books I read--that seems like a daunting, and kind of stressful task, to be frank. However, I wanted to spotlight a few books that I've read recently which I think are worth discussing and recommending, albeit with more brevity than in my usual reviews.
Because it is My Blood by Gabrielle Zevin
Because it is My Blood is the second in Gabrielle Zevin's unusual dystopian mafia series, the first of which is All These Things I've Done. The narrative style of this series is one that will either work for people or not--the memoir-like reflective style is definitely different and I really love it. This second novel in the series sends Anya to Mexico, and this shift from New York makes for a a quieter, slower installment in contrast with the first novel in the series (which I reviewed here and where I detailed the premise of the series). I also really enjoyed the new characters introduced in this installment, especially Anya's new friend Theo, who brings some interesting perspective to her life.
However, I do wish the chocolate/pot metaphor wasn't so heavy-handed toward the end of the novel because beat over the head metaphors irk me. The reality is that the banning of chocolate and coffee can be extended to anything deemed illicit and corrupted, so it doesn't need to be so specifically analogous. And, I really am weary of the love interest in this series, Win, who seems kind of--I don't know--generic and kind of bro-y. I'm hoping there's some transformation in Anya and Win's relationship in the final novel, out next year.
Finally, I listened to the audiobook of Because it is My Blood and I found the odd narrative style really worked in audio form. It felt like Anya, years later, was telling me the story of her life.
Note: The first two books in this series are currently $4 and $6, respectively, for the paperbacks on Amazon.
Winger by Andrew Smith
Winger is one of those books that I heartily recommend and yet in some ways didn't work for me on a personal level. The voice of the highly intelligent 14-year old protagonist is extremely real feeling, and it's funny in an authentic teenage manner (yay!), though perhaps a bit too self-conscious at moments.
However, the big climax happens near at the end of the book and while I suspected that something akin to the thing that happened would happen, I'm still not convinced that was the right time for the thing to happen. This is probably a personal preference thing, so your results may vary. Though, on the other hand, if it happened earlier on (such as halfway through), it would inevitably be compared to another boarding school book featuring a teen male main character. So, there's that.
Essentially Winger is quite good, and I've already recommended it a number of people who will definitely like it. I was thrilled that the sports elements (rugby in this case) were out-freaking-standing, and the gross-out humor and comics interspersed with the text will really click with Winger's intended audience. But still... I keep coming back to that I caught onto the thing that happens near the end early on in the story, so that colored my enjoyment for a couple hundred pages.
A.S. King blurbed this novel, and I most definitely think Winger has high appeal for her fans.
Disclosure: Received for review from the publisher.
Jersey Angel by Beth Ann Bauman
Jersey Angel is a strange book. It tackles the story of Angel, a girl from the Jersey Shore during her last year in high school. It's thematically extremely similar to Uses for Boys, which did not work for me on any level after the first couple chapters. Jersey Angel, however, is pretty successful with addressing these themes in a layered, often-heartbreaking, but also subtly humored, manner. However, it's definitely not a book for everyone, because it's not the breezy summery read the cover and summary would indicate--this is a tough story about a girl who seeks fulfillment .
Angel's voice is very believable and, whoa, talk about challenging characters. Angel's relationships with other people are quite dysfunctional and her choices will likely be disturbing to some readers. However, her characterization is quite well-developed and several of the secondary characters serve as intriguing metaphorical representations of possible futures for Angel. Angel's never a victim and Bauman makes no excuses for her and never places blame on anyone. She simply lets Angel tell her story.
I do think it's interesting that there have been quite a bit of negative comments made about this book and particularly Angel's attitude toward sex and yet there doesn't seem to be the mass defense of this book like there has been with Uses for Boys. I sure would love to know why this is, since for me Angel's story is a much more fully fleshed out depiction of a teen girl seeking a place in the world and using sex as a vehicle with which to do so. I have some theories as to why this divergent reaction to these two similarly-themed novels might be, but I'm reluctant to delve into it further out of concern for the way people have chosen to react to discussion about Uses for Boys. *Sigh*
I listened to the audiobook of Jersey Angel and believe my appreciation of this story was aided by the narrator's spot-on Jersey inflection, which captured Angel's voice (quite literally voice) perfectly. And in some ways, this book was more uncomfortable because of the audio, since it forces the listener to confront Angel's reality, rather than skim over the more disturbing details.
Dirty Little Secret by Jennifer Echols
It's no secret that Jennifer Echols' is an automatic preorder author for me (despite that her new adult paranormal didn't work for me) and her latest young adult novel, Dirty Little Secret, is yet more evidence that she's an author I can count on.
This novel focuses on Bailey, family wild child and champion fiddle player. She and her sister used to be a highly-regarded duo until her sister was handpicked by Nashville producers to be the next big thing in country music. Bailey is quietly shuffled off to live with her grandfather and is relegated to performing at the mall and forbidden from pursuing her own music dreams. Thanks to this work at the mall, she meets Sam, a guitarist with his own aspirations of music stardom and an agenda.
I find myself impressed with how Echols seems to be pushing the boundaries of YA romance quite a bit and while loads of folks cheer on the compelling romance, I wish she got more credit for doing things differently than we've come to expect out of romance-focused teen fiction. Bailey is a bit of a difficult character and Sam is very much a flawed love interest. Echols lets her characters be selfish, as is to be expected for this age group, lets them make mistakes and always has a girl-positive angle to the way she constructs her characters' romantic entanglements.
My favorite Echols novel is still last year's Such a Rush, followed by Going Too Far, but Dirty Little Secret was a memorable, entertaining read with more depth than it belies at first glance. I believe this is Laura's new favorite Echols novel, and she's a big music nerd, so I think that says a lot.
Disclosure: Received for review from the publisher.