Thursday, July 26, 2012

Godless, by Pete Hautman

Jason has his doubts about religion.  Despite his parents' efforts to keep him on the straight and narrow by sending him to a teen religious group, Jason finds the whole thing inane. Some of his friends are devout, but Jason simply doesn't really believe in the existence of a Supreme Being.  After all, the stories don't make any sense.  It's about as ridiculous as worshiping a water tower!

And so Jason, on a lark, decides to create a religion based on the local water tower.  At first, it is great fun and he enlists several friends to join him.  They develop a scripture, mock rituals, and offices.  They climb the tower itself to hold "mass." But things get out of hand as people start to take things too seriously.

The idea is clever and Hautman tries to make some observations about youthful religious doubt, but I never got fully engaged in the story.  At times, Jason can be funny and even sympathetic, but overall he's limited.  The characters do some goofy stuff, but don't grow enough to provide the payoff for readers to pay attention to their searches.  Jason himself ends up pretty much the same doubter he was in the beginning.

Brooklyn Rose, by Ann Rinaldi

Inspired by the true story of the author's grandparents, Rinaldi writes about how a rich silk merchant from Brooklyn courted a fifteen year-old girl from the outer shores of South Carolina.  And how that young woman settled in to a new life up north.

There are minor adventures along the way and the book has nice period detail.  Written in the form of a diary, without any attempt to form a true narrative arc, the story lacks much of a plot beyond serial episodes.  The characters are not really developed either.  Even Rose, the diary's author, never really reveals very much about herself.

At only 200 pages and very large type, the story certainly had room for expansion and for us to learn more about these people. Whether Rinaldi avoids that out of a desire to not embellish too much on her ancestors or for some other reason, the trials of adapting to a new life in New York is largely left unsaid (even though petty issues are certainly mentioned).  The overall effect is like having a conversation with a taciturn grandmother, neatly glossing over details in her golden years.  One wishes that there was more to the story.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Forest of Hands and Teeth, by Carrie Ryan

In Mary's village, no one has ever questioned the Sisterhood's claim that nothing lies beyond the fence except for zombie-like "unconsecrateds." But Mary's mother has told her stories about life before the Return (i.e., before the unconsecrateds took over the world).  She's told Mary about the "ocean," a place with water as far as the eye can see.  And Mary wants to see this place.

While Mary struggles with whether to obey and stay within the safety of her town's walls, events overshadow her doubts, beginning with the arrival of a stranger to the town.  With the presence of an outsider, Mary is certain that there really must be something in the forest and beyond.  And when a catastrophe befalls the town, Mary and a small group of friends are forced to flee and find out.

In all, it's a post-apocalyptic zombie adventure with a romantic triangle thrown in (Twilight meets I Am Legend).  It's not high literature, the plotting is messy, and the writing a bit too dense, but the pages turn quickly.  Don't get too attached to the romantic thread or any of Mary's struggles with coming-of-age, because no character development is really as important as moving this story along at a brisk pace.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Beginner's Luck, by Laura Pedersen

Hallie's got a good head for numbers.  She likes to use the skill for making money at race tracks and playing poker games.  What she doesn't have much interest in is school, and her frequent absences get her into trouble.  But when faced with an ultimatum to shape up or face domestic lockdown, she chooses a third option and leaves home.  Her initial plan (to win big on the horses and flee to Las Vegas) doesn't pan out, so she ends up taking a groundskeeper job for an eccentric family, the Stocktons.  What unfolds in the next year is a series of life lessons that provide Hallie with the perspective that has been missing in her life so far.

Pederson has a knack for creating interesting and memorable characters (the primate who mixes his own drinks is particularly bizarre).  They never stop surprising you.  The story, however suffers from literary ADHD.  Things happen and then new things happen, but often just completely out of the blue.  And key plot lines, like Hallie's gambling or her desire to be emancipated from her parents just get dropped and forgotten about in favor of something shinier. The result is a series of funny and insightful vignettes.  In their accumulation, these are probably supposed to relay a deeper meaning, but it just seems like rambling that Pederson arbitrarily decides at some point to end.