Tuesday, February 27, 2024
Sunday, February 25, 2024
A complex emotional story that hints at much more than it says, Rory and Liv are anything but the cold girls that they projected to the outside world. In fact, it was the shared knowledge that there are these strong current underneath that bonded them together. It was also a relationship that was coming to an end as the girls were about to graduate and move on. Neither girl could ever hope to maintain the facades and there are moments when each of them crack, but by dying Liv avoided ever having to face those feelings as much as Rory ends up doing (on her own).
The story starts strong and quickly gets us deep into the hidden world that these two girls share, but I found the middle section a hard slog. With little clear sense of where we were going or why we were going there, the multiple characters and complex relationships between them become a chore to keep straight. The constant time shifts become trying as well as I had to keep reminding myself what was happening at a point of time we haven't rveeisted for the past fifty pages. It's only towards the end, that the story's pace picks up. An end point becomes visible and I tuned back in. I think the story would improve with a re-reading and if you enjoy a book that you can get more out of with a repeat then this might be for you.
Monday, February 19, 2024
Practically no one has any interest in the idea, but Natty is determined to make it happen and through persitance and stubboness she manhandles a band of skeptical kids and demoralized adults to come together. But is being relentlessly positive a good thing and can it really change anything? Natty is convinced it will all work out, as long as she can just keep a sunny outlook. For whether that is true or not, you'll have to read the book.
There is certain level of frustration with a story that never actually resolves, but my biggest issue with this book was the flimsyness of the premise. From nearly the first page, just about everyone is pointing out to Natty what a foolhardy exercise it is. Her unwillingness to accept any truth in that isn't all that interesting. That doesn't leave much to grow on and the conclusion is largely inevitable. And when the refusal to acknowledge that bad things are happening causes Natty to gaslight her friends, it doesn't make her look very kind. There's not much learned in the end and not really a lesson worth learning.
Saturday, February 17, 2024
She is suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), a condition characterized by having vivid alternate personalities that manifest in a person and are usually formed as a coping mechanism for an early childhood trauma. The actual particulars of Dylan's trauma take a while to be uncovered and the real itself is anticlimactic. The story focuses instead on Dylan's growing understanding of her condition and her learning to cope with it. Unfortunately, this part of the book (roughly the middle) is also the weakest section.
I was really captivated by the story from the start and reminded of how much I enjoyed novels dealing with mental health. There's a compelling mystery with all sorts of interesting elements that are slowly revealed. Up to the diagnosis, this is a real page turner. But once we know what is happening, the pacing really slows down and becomes this big educational text where we're introduced to Dylan's "system" and her "alters" who "front" for her from time to time because of various conditions. Not much actually happens in these 150 or so pages beyond a bunch of repetitive and strikingly boring conversations. It's only when the culprit (a completely new character never mentioned prior to that point of the story) is revealed that the pace picks up again. But here McLaughlin is at a loss as to how to portray the moment of confrontation and the last sixty pages reads more like a lengthy postscript than a climax. There is no dramatic conclusion. In fact, there really is no conclusion at all.
A fascinating topic but the presentation sucks of it the life out of the story. It starts strong but then treads water, before dying at the end with a whimper.
Monday, February 12, 2024
Enterprising Lila doesn't let this hold her back. She marches down to the bank and tries to apply for a loan for the band program. She gets turned down, but she comes across a strange box lying on the floor of the lobby. The box turns out to contain a magical being who calls herself Felise and brings good luck for a week to the bearer of the box. Lila doesn't know what to do with her good fortune but she manages to spin it into a number of small successes, raising money for the band program.
Then, just when things are really starting to look good, the owner of the box comes looking for it and wants it back!
A lovely, albeit heavy-handed, middle grade reader story about the magic of friendships and self-determination. The magic that Felise brings, in contrast, is downplayed and much of Lila's good fortune is attributed to Lisa herself, Lila exhibits an infectious combination of bravery, compassion, and good ideas that makes her a perfect friend. And while that point is sometimes thrust a bit too forcefully in the reader's face, the book is a pleasing combination of a fun story and positive messages. Having enjoyed her YA novels, it's nice to see her doing equally well with a younger demographic.
Sunday, February 11, 2024
Esther is a sixteen year-old studying to become a medic and, if she can pass her exam, win a coveted slot to study on the mainland. She and her boyfriend Alex are loyal citizens, but they find themselves dragged into the conflict as the land forces ratchet up their suppression and start implementing their genocide.
There is some elaborate world building but the book doesn't waste much time before diving into the thick of the action. Told in alternating chapters by three narrators -- Esther, her older sister's boyfriend Nik (who works for the rebellion), and Hadley (the leader of the government forces charged with controlling the boat) -- it maintains a breathless pace through over 400 pages. It's a fast read, but doesn't leave much time for sorting out the characters or for the reader to establish much attachment to them. Rather, the story screams out "film option!" and seems designed for a visceral and visually immersive adventure. It would probably make a great film, but as a dystopian novel it's fairly average.
Friday, February 09, 2024
Sunday, February 04, 2024
Laika is a stray, a "cold dog" in her words. Very much unlike the "warm dogs" who have warm house to live in and food to eat. Instead, Laika must survive on scraps and her street smarts to get by. But a careless lapse leads to her capture and enrollment in a program to train canines to undergo the rigor of space travel. She excels at it despite her distrust of human and other dogs.
Nina is a proverbial "cold girl" whose very best friend has abandoned her by defecting along with her family to America. because of the family's betrayal, Nina is told that she must denounce her friend in order to protect her own family. She struggles with the idea and is horrified to find the things that are being said about her friend. Confused by the way her fellow students and teachers are betraying their ideals, she seeks solace in the presence of animals and bonds with Laika. The two grow close and, when Nina discovers that Laika won't be able to return from her trip, Nina becomes convinced that she must do something to save her best friend.
One can question the wisdom of writing a children's book about a girl and her slated-for-death best friend. The true story of Laika is one that sits uncomfortably in history and there will be many people who would simply never read this book on principle. Shepherd makes this much worse in two ways: by developing a strong emotional story between the girl and the dog and by telling half the story through Laika's voice. The chapters told from Laika's trusting point of view -- including her final moments on the rocket -- take a rather strong stomach (or severe detachment) to read. Shepherd makes the argument in her afterward that the story, while tragic, needs to be told because of Laika'a major contribution to science and the nobility of her sacrifice, but one might counter that argument by pointing out that Laika never actually chose to make the sacrifice so what we are basically witnessing is a living creature being murdered.
Setting those ethical questions aside, the story felt uneven. The story of Laika and Nina opening up to each other was lovely, but the political elements of the story are half-heartedly developed. The bullying at school is poorly explained. An over the top attempt at last minute sabotage rings untrue and largely undermines the emotional seriousness of the story. One almost wishes that these diversions had been skipped altogether.
Saturday, February 03, 2024
So, she plays thing safe. She has a crush on Taz Fenwick's "perfect proportions" that seems unlikely to ever be consummated, which is just as well since she's still a bit afraid of boys. She has a small group of friends. She helps her parents out at the family's yarn shop, helping people fix their knitting mistakes. Her two loves -- math and knitting -- provide comforting boundaries.
Two things shake up that comfortable world. First, the arrival of the pregnant girl (the granddaughter of a customer) challenges Bliss to accept that some problems are out of her league. But it is accidentally eavesdropping of a conversation between a classmate's mother and her lover that presents a quandary for Bliss. Should she tell her friend about the infidelity or is it kinder to mind her own business? And do the rules change when the friend becomes a romantic interest?
Interspersed with lots of knitting references, this novel gently explores Bliss's growing awareness of life's imperfections. At times perhaps unrealistically mature, Bliss still has enough room for growth to teach the us a few things. The positive supportive atmosphere of the story and the realistically unresolved ending leaves the reader a satisfactory conclusion.