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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Review: 'Extraordinary Means'

Extraordinary Means
By Robyn Schneider
YA Realistic Fiction
May 2015
Katherine Tegen Books
ISBN: 978-0062217165

Lane has put himself on the fast track during his high school career -- AP, power electives, creating clubs that will look good on his Stanford application. That life is rudely interrupted when he goes to a most exclusive private school, one where homework is frowned upon, eating as much as possible is encouraged and getting tired or excited is the last thing that should happen.

The school is only for teens with a highly contagious form of TB. They are prisoners, waiting to see if they survive or die.

Lane rejects that. He continues to see his sojourn at the bucolic setting as an enforced holding pattern and continues to exert himself in studies. Meanwhile, at the table of kids who appear to shine over the rest, he recognizes a girl from summer camp a few years ago.

Sadie recognizes Lane as well, and she doesn’t want anything to do with the boy who caused her greatest humiliation. That's especially true now that she has come into her own. She is no longer one of the awkward kids, the kids who don’t fit in. She is thriving, finding ways to break the rules and stand up to authority.

In a story that outdoes The Fault in Our Stars for strong character voice, drama and humor that do not feel manipulative, Extraordinary Means is a most welcome novel for lovers of contemporary YA fiction.

©2015 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Books Reviews and republished with permission

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Review: 'None of the Above'

None of the Above
By I.W. Gregorio
YA Realistic Fiction
April 2015
Balzer + Bray
ISBN: 978-00623335319

Things are going well for Kristin during her senior year -- she has two solid friends, a dreamy boyfriend, is interested in life and school, and she runs. She and her father are coping with her mother's death from cancer several years ago.

Then she discovers everything she knew about herself is not what she thought, and everything changes.

When she and her longtime boyfriend finally try to have sex, it's painful. Kristin is smart enough to go to a doctor to see what's wrong. She's surprised to discover she's intersex, with organs of both genders.

So at an age when most people are discovering themselves, Kristin is doing so, but starting from scratch. Everything she has thought about herself she now questions.

So do other people when the entire school finds out.

Debut author Gregorio, who is a doctor, handles Kristin's situation with kindness and from more than one angle. Regular teen complications of finding the right boy, dealing with scorn and discovering who you can really rely on are woven into the novel seamlessly.

Because Gregorio writes honestly about sexual matters, but with great taste, this is on the older end of YA fiction. But it is a novel I have recommended for every high school library.

©2015 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Books Reviews and reprinted by permission

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Sunday Sentence: 'Against the Country'

As inspired by Fobbit author David Abrams at The Quivering Pen, the best sentence(s) I read this week, presented without context or commentary:

So it was that whereas we were led to believe we had acquired the land, when in fact the land had acquired us; and whereas the land was, in my estimation, perfectly happy with this arrangement, though in a remarkably short time we were not; and whereas the law in no way met its onus to correct, or at a minimum to address, this injustice as it might any other; therefore my father's war on the property, and its war on us, could in no way be considered actionable, which left us his only incentive to sue for peace the psychological welfare of his famly, which he seemed to regard, if that word even applies here, as no more than an annoyance ... So it was that we stumbled into the country life like an infant who takes his first astonished steps and then, as his frightened grin dissolves, reaches out to catch himself against the side of a red-hot wood stove.

-- Ben Metcalf, Against the Country

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Sunday Sentence: 'The Turner House'

As inspired by Fobbit author David Abrams at The Quivering Pen, the best sentence(s) I read this week, presented without further context or commentary:

One man's haunting is another man's hallowed guest.

-- Angela Flournoy, The Turner House

Monday, July 27, 2015

Review: 'Our Souls at Night'

Our Souls at Night
By Kent Haruf
Literary fiction
May 2015
ISBN: 978-1101875896

Addie Moore has been widowed for years. Her only son and his family live out of town. She keeps fairly active but she’s lonely. So one day, out of the blue, she calls a neighbor. Louis Waters, a retired high school English teacher, lost his wife years ago. His only daughter lives out of town as well.

Since Addie and Louis live in Holt, Colorado, the setting of all of Kent Haruf’s unembellished novels, where people tend to create makeshift families, they won’t be alone all the time in his final novel, Our Souls at Night.
The worst part of being alone, Addie tells Louis, is there is no one to talk to at night. So what does he think about coming over to spend the same night, to sleep in the same bed, no obligations, no sex? Well, Louis thinks about it. And he heads over.
Their unorthodox relationship has some in town buzzing and others cheering. But Addie says she’s way past worrying about others and it’s time Louis did the same:

"I told you I don’t want to live like that anymore -- for other people, what they think, what they believe. I don’t think it’s the way to live. It isn’t for me anyway."

Over the course of a summer, they tell each other secrets and stories from their lives, secure that neither will judge the other harshly or wrongly. This includes a huge mistake Louis made and still regrets. He also believes that mistake says something about his character.

It’s not something he wishes for his own daughter. He wishes the opposite for her:
"I wish you would find somebody who’s a self-starter. Somebody who would go to Italy with you and get up on a Saturday morning and take you up in the mountains and get snowed on and come home and be filled up with it all."
When Addie’s young grandson is sent to spend the summer with her, because his parents are fighting, Louis adds wonderful experiences to the child’s world -- watching a nest of newborn mice, learning how to play catch, going camping and having a dog.
Trouble could come from many sources -- their ages, their children, even changing feelings. When trouble does arrive, it is infuriating, all the more because it is entirely plausible. Family members don’t always wish the best, and only the best, for each other. This seems especially true when past hurts become deeply ingrained grudges. Some people just don’t get over things. They let their hurts fester until their souls are poisoned. And then, sometimes, they try to infect others with the same venom. Even the people who love them.

Haruf gets this across calmly, quietly, letting the characters and their actions speak for themselves without much exposition. This narrative style may seem too quiet and nondescript for some. But when the emotional wallops come, they are all the stronger for the lack of hyperbole.

In this, his final novel, Haruf also has a grand meta moment when Addie and Louis talk about dramatic adaptations of stories set in their town by some writer. But they couldn’t be true. They’ve lived in Holt for years and never heard about two old bachelor brothers who took in a young pregnant woman.

For readers such as this one, who have adored Haruf’s novels since that story, Plainsong, it was a sweet moment of farewell.
©2015 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Books Reviews and reprinted with permission

Friday, July 24, 2015

Review: 'Life After Life'

Life After Life
By Kate Atkinson
Literary fiction
April 2013
Arthur Reagan Books
ISBN: 978-0316176484

I loved this novel for the way Atkinson captures the England I first fell in love with in The Forsyte Saga and Delderfield -- the copse, the meadow, the picking up and carrying on. She is masterful in her depiction of that England.

In addition, all the passages of the Blitz are brilliant. The long section at Hitler's mountain retreat, not so much. That was dreadful and I could hardly wait to get past it. And it was probably written that way on purpose, to point out how dreadful it must have been.
The germ of the main idea in the novel can be seen in the epigraphs at the beginning (and I do think it's delightful that Atkinson quotes her own characters both here and at the beginning of A God in Ruins).

What if we could go back and start all over again, and get it right? What if we could save our beloved brother, what if we could keep from marrying a man who beat us to death, what if we could save the neighbor girls from the mysterious stranger, what if we stayed in Germany, what if, what if? 
Ursula finally realizes this when she states toward the final pages that she is a witness. She knows what she has to do in the next life and she has developed the ability to make the choices that will help. There is the hint that the other characters may have had a bit of a sense of something too, especially when Teddy tells her thank you from across the pub.
But Atkinson also tells me that some things can't be changed. I always had the impression that Izzie's child that was adopted became Hitler. But when the Todds kept him and he drowned (as Roland), WWII still happened. The conversation the long-lived Ursula had with her nephew the history professor on what if probably ties into this, but I decided to not parse it too closely.
Because some things just can't be changed.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sunday Sentence: More Per Petterson

As inspired by Fobbit author David Abrams at The Quivering Pen, the best sentence(s) I read this past week, presented without further context or commentary:

... is time like an empty sack you can stuff any number of things into, does it never go just from here to there, but instead in circles, round and round so that every single time the wheel has turned, you are back where you started.

-- I Refuse, Per Petterson