Monday, June 27, 2011

The Grimm Legacy, by Polly Shulman

The Book Talk:

The Review: 

I think this is the first book I've reviewed/talked about that's actually targeted at teens, which I am going to try to do a little more from now on.  The Grimm Legacy, by Polly Shulman, is at its heart a fun summer read, a fantasy with literary allusions and quirky characters.  There are a lot of aspects of this book I really liked, and a few things that bugged me a little, and I'll talk about both.

First, the good.  This book has a great setting.  The idea of a library that lends objects is just fantastic, and the way that Shulman describes the setting is spot on.  There's a feeling of whimsy, but also a little creepy darkness.  Instead of transmitting messages through messengers or e-mail or phone, the Repository uses pneumatic tubes to pass information, which is just awesome.  I've always been a pneumatic tube fan, and this detail added just the right atmosphere to this library, which is set in the modern world but feels just a little mysterious and old fashioned.

Another good thing about this book is the well-researched literary references.  Shulman pays homage to many of the lesser known Grimm fairy tales, and aspects of the stories become important to her own story in ways that make the reader really want to read the original.  After reading this book, I really want to re-read The Twelve Dancing Princesses, and the next book I check out of the library may very well be a collection of the original Grimm stories.

Now, on to the aspects of the book that I didn't like quite as much.  This book is filled with really fun characters.  Elizabeth's friend Anjali and some of the librarians were given interesting personalities and back stories, but Elizabeth herself was really just a little dull.  Shulman tried to give her character traits that made her parallel a fairy-tale character (a "wicked" stepmother and step-sisters, having to do chores all the time), but the end results was that she just didn't have very much personality.  The one personality trait Shulman gave her was a love for and remembrance of fairy tales, and it just wasn't enough to carry the story.  I wished that Anjali had been the main character instead; she was far more interesting person (or at least had the potential for interesting-ness).

Another thing that bothered me was the relationship between Elizabeth and Aaron.  They have a rivalry throughout the book which was actually intriguing (I liked that I never knew whether Aaron was good or bad), but the way their relationship worked out at the end was just kind of...meh.  I don't want to give too much away, but let's just say that the way things worked out did not match the way things were going through the rest of the book.

To summarize, I did enjoy this novel.  It had a great setting and a good forward-propelling mystery, but I just wanted the characters to have a little more depth/personality.  It was a fun summer read (and I do actually hope there's a sequel so the setting's full-potential can be realized!  Not only is there a "Grimm Collection", but an "H.G. Well's Bequest", and both a "Gibson" and "Lovecraft" collection, which I would've loved to see utilized a little more).

Let me know if you've read this, and what you've thought of it, or if it sounds like something you'd like!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Room by Emma Donaghue

The Book Talk:

The Book Review:

I really do mean to make this blog mostly focused on young adult and children's literature, but for some reason I couldn't stay away from this book.  I justified reading it because it's a 2011 Alex Award Winner, which is a prize given to ten adult books with appeal to young adults aged 12 to 18.  So yes, Room is an adult novel, but there are definitely some older teenagers I would recommend it to.

I'm going to do my best to write this review without giving away too much of the story.  It is in many ways a thriller, and I don't want to ruin the page-turning quality for readers.  If you want to hear a little more about what it's about, make sure you watch the book talk I've posted above.

This is one of those books that's not easy.  It's not light or fluffy or fun -- in fact, in many ways it is highly disturbing and very sad.  However, while it's not an easy book, it is an amazingly well realized novel.  In almost every way (plot, pacing, writing style, voice, character), Donaghue's talent as a writer shines through.

Probably the most stand-out of these talents is Donaghue's ability to create her main character's first person voice.  Jack is five-years-old, and I truly believed the entire time that this narrative could be the thought process of a child.  Sometimes when adults write in the voice of children, it feels stilted and dumbed down, but Jack is amazingly well crafted.  He's smart in some ways and ignorant in others, he's sweet and mean and real and everything a five-year-old really is.

I had read some reviews that mentioned that the first half of Room is perfectly paced and emotionally suspenseful, but that it falls short a little in that department in the second half.   I actually have to completely disagree with these reviewers.  Yes, the first half and the second half are different, but they are suspenseful and deliberately paced in different ways.  It's almost like you're reading two different novels that have been placed together as perfect companion pieces.

I could probably go on and on about why I believe this book is worth reading and well done, but I want to end this review with some thoughts about its appeal to teen readers.  At first glance, this seems like a book that's too much for a teen audience (even though it's narrated by a child).  It's gritty and brutal and disturbing, and there is a lot of very adult content.  However, I can think of at least three teenagers who frequent my library who I would hand this book to in a heartbeat.  Kids like to read about things that really happen in the world, and stuff like what happens in Room DOES happen in real life.  This book is for teens (and adults) who love Ellen Hopkin's Crank, Elizabeth Scott's Living Dead Girl, and even Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The first post: Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury

Art by Gray Foy
The Book Talk:

The Book Review:

This is the very first Bibliosnack entry, so I decided to discuss a book that is very near and dear to my heart.  In general, I'm going to try to review books as I read them (so there'll be a lot more contemporary stuff, or at least books that are new to me), but to christen this blog, I am going with my favorite.

Ray Bradbury is well known for his books Fahrenheit 451, and The Martian Chronicles, and his science fiction short stories.  Something Wicked This Way Comes is probably one of his more minor works according to most people, but it is a book I truly truly love.

The reason I love this book probably stems from the fact that my mom read it out loud to me when I was about ten-years-old.  I vividly remember the language rolling past my ears bizarrely -- I can't say I understood the story as much then as I understood the feeling of the words.  They felt disturbing and creepy and lovely and dark, and full of nostalgia and beautiful fear.  It was a feeling I just got.  When I read the book again later on my own, I found myself HAVING to just read it out loud.  Something Wicked is more poetry than prose, more mood piece than page turner, and in my opinion it's nearly perfect.

When I was a kid, Halloween was more than just a holiday -- it was a passion.  I loved the feeling in the air, and the dressing up, and the pumpkins, and the spookiness.  This book captures in an absolutely spot-on way what it feels like to be a 12-year-old on Halloween.  What it feels like to have the insatiable desire to both be older, and to stay the same age forever.  What it feels like to have a best friend you feel both completely connected to and disconnected from at the same time.

Now that I'm an adult, Something Wicked has even more meaning for me.  What I didn't get as a kid has come to life for me -- I understand Will's father's desire to be young forever, I understand the magic of a library, I understand how it feels to truly disconnect from a friend, and I understand more of what the words really mean.  Even more, it still reminds me of what it was like to be a kid.  And it still scares me.  Few things are more terrifying than the October People and the Illustrated Man, the hall of mirrors and the backwards-turning carousel.

The combination of the subject matter and the metaphor-dripping language is what makes this Bradbury book so amazing for me.  A good book tells a good story, but a great book both tells that story, and makes you feel it.  Something Wicked This Way Comes is my favorite book for this very reason.