Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Promise of Amazing

I read The Promise of Amazing quite a while ago, and I'm trying to catch up on my reviews...   Somewhere I read a perhaps over-enthusiastic review of this book which caused me to actually purchase it (a somewhat rare occurrence for me as I usually get books straight from the publisher these days or else the library where I work.)  It's written by Robin Constantine and it's a YA book about a perennial  "good girl" who does what's expected of her and stays out of trouble.  She meets a boy who used to be a star but has made a few screw-ups and is getting a reputation for a "bad boy".  Grayson's a bit of an incongruous character who wears an elbow-patch blazer and has, unbelievably, an eyebrow piercing.  It's his very bad boy charm that Wren (good names, right?) is attracted to, having been pigeon-holed as a middle-of-the-road kid.

The characters never felt fully developed to me, leaning, instead on the sort of stereotypical tropes from John Hugh's movies of which Constantine is clearly a fan.  There are multiple references to Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club (not that there's anything wrong with that - I weep for a generation not weened on 80s movies - I mean, have kids today even seen Say Anything?)  However, there's a bit of a tidiness that rings untrue - Grayson, for example, has done something illegal for which he is eventually caught, however, due to some savvy moves by his dad he basically gets off scot-free.  This freedom from consequence is annoying in a YA novel.... but, I don't know.... they don't all have to be didactic, I'm just saying - in a book about two middle-class white kids, confronting their white privilege might have brought a bit more depth to the story.

Where Constantine does confront a social issue is in the tackling of Grayson and Wren's sexual pasts.  In a chapter written from Grayson's perspective, she writes, "I'd left Wren and her chai latte downstairs, making up some excuse about wanting to get my iPod so she could hear my favorite song from the latest Coldplay album.  In reality I was picking up in my room and figuring out how I could get her to come upstairs, since I pretty much wanted to devour her whole."  
What I did like was how Constantine frees the characters from their sexual "baggage" instead offering a vision of a more sexually empowered teen that's able to experiment and move on.  One of Wren's girlfriends says, "What I'm getting at is - so what if he's been with other girls? It only means he's experienced. You've been with other guys - is he all jacked up over that? We're sixteen... this is how it's supposed to be."  Ultimately this YA novel wasn't really what this adult reader was looking for but I suppose it did have some promising aspects.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

All the Birds, Singing

Here's my review of All the Birds, Singing, on Newcity.  This book was totally amazing, I loved it SO. MUCH.  I first read and excerpt in Granta's Top 20 British Authors.  I believe Evie Wyld is actually Australian/British, but who's quibbling?  Her chapter was the standout of Granta and I was dying to read the whole book after I read it.

Friday, April 04, 2014


Panic is the name of a game played by high school seniors in heather's small town. The winner gets a pot that all seniors are bullied into contributing $1/day their last year of school, whether they want to or not. The game is extremely dangerous. It begins with participants leaping off a cliff into a quarry, and ends with a game of chicken in cars, though the years, players have been killed or maimed, but they keep playing the game because they feel like it's the only way to escape life in this nowhere town. Sounds a lot like the Hunger Games, right? Except it's not a dystopian future and the game's not mandatory. But it is an impoverished town with little to no options for young people to strive for, and Heather's even got a saintly younger sister she feels responsible for and an incompetent mother that can't care for either one of them.

 Heather falls into a job helping a local woman care for her chickens and farm animals and starts, for the first time, to trust an adult parental figure and experience a type of stability for the first time in her life. This woman improbably has two tigers on her farm, rescues from... somewhere. It brings to mind, naturally, that age-old saying by Chekov: If you introduce a tiger in the first act, it had better go off in the second act. 

I've read Lauren Oliver's Before I Fall previously. I'm not nuts about her writing style, I find it slightly unsophisticated, like a YA novel that is definitely intended for a young audience. Her heavy handed foreshadowing, the obvious conflicts of the love interest are just a little tiresome.

Stephen King recently announced that he was self-censoring his short story, Rage, because it seems to have influenced a number of real-world school shootings. The story will not be published in reprintings of the compilation. I found it interesting that that story came out while I was reading Panic, which explains how to make a car bomb, "easy as making salad dressing", and describes a game of Russian Roulette. I think Panic is unlikely to garner any more publicity than The Hunger Games, particularly because it's main audience is girls. Ultimately I wouldn't necessarily recommend Panic to mature readers but I can see it being appealing to younger readers.