Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Review: Trouble by Non Pratt

Title: Trouble
Author: Non Pratt
Publisher: Walker Books
Publication date: March 6, 2014
Rating: ★★★

Summary (via Goodreads):

When the entire high school finds out that Hannah Shepard is pregnant via her ex-best friend, she has a full-on meltdown in her backyard. The one witness (besides the rest of the world): Aaron Tyler, a transfer student and the only boy who doesn’t seem to want to get into Hannah’s pants. Confused and scared, Hannah needs someone to be on her side. Wishing to make up for his own past mistakes, Aaron does the unthinkable and offers to pretend to be the father of Hannah’s unborn baby. Even more unbelievable, Hannah hears herself saying “yes.”

Can we just talk about this book cover for a second? I somehow completely missed all the little sperm swimming around at first but, um, GENIUS.

Okay. Moving on now.

I had such conflicting feelings about Trouble. I saw it on the shelf at the library and picked it up, read the summary on the back cover, and put it back on the shelf... continued browsing... then circled back, picked it back up again, and brought it to the checkout. Books about teen pregnancy are not really my thing. I get all squeamish and my throat constricts and my arms get kind of itchy... but I've seen this book all over the book blogosphere so I decided to give it a chance. When I finished Trouble, I gave it 4 stars, then I changed it to a 3.5, and then decided this was a solidly 3 star book.

Almost all of the characters were intriguing – Katie, Marcy, Tyrone, Rex, Aaron, Jay, and of course Hannah – which is promising, given my obsession with character development. But it seemed like many of them were explored and then dropped out of nowhere. One of my biggest literary frustrations is when an author introduces really compelling and complex characters and writes about them and makes them feel significant, but then lets them taper off and disappear completely. I also hate when characters start out as complex individuals with both flaws and redeeming qualities, but become very black/white over the course of the book.

I just expected the story to be more (especially with the amount of focus on specific characters) and was kind of disappointed that they turned out only to be a means to an end. Tyrone was the reason for Marcy to hate Hannah. Marcy was the reason for Katie to ditch Hannah. Rex was the reason for Marcy to hang out with Katie, who was the reason for Hannah to make new friends.

Based on what we saw of Jay, it was difficult for me to understand why he mattered so much to Hannah – quite frankly, he seemed like a terrible human being. I was also kind of surprised that nothing really ever happened with him – he was such a big talking point in the second half of the book that I expected something to come out of it. For all the conflict and struggle that Non Pratt built up throughout the story, the ending of Trouble felt like a cop-out, almost as though we were missing 40 pages from the book.

I did love the way teen pregnancy was illustrated. Nothing was glorified a la Teen Mom, but it didn't feel like a public service announcement either. I liked the way Hannah came to terms with pregnancy but she still remained fifteen years old. She still had exams and wanted to look good and had friend drama, and that was a nice realistic detail.

In general, I also liked the way Non Pratt discussed sex – she wasn't overly preachy (if anything, she may have been a bit overly encouraging...) and clearly Hannah was comfortable with her own sexuality. Mostly I'm glad that there was no sex-shaming (or if there was, that it rolled right off Hannah's back).

However, none of these things were enough to really make me enjoy this book. It just felt like too much stuff going on and not enough space to really tie up all the loose ends.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Review: This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

Title: This is Not a Test (This is Not a Test #1)
Author: Courtney Summers
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Publication date: June 19, 2012
Rating: ★★

Summary (via Goodreads):

It's the end of the world. Six students have taken cover in Cortege High but shelter is little comfort when the dead outside won't stop pounding on the doors. One bite is all it takes to kill a person and bring them back as a monstrous version of their former self. To Sloane Price, that doesn't sound so bad. Six months ago, her world collapsed and since then, she's failed to find a reason to keep going. Now seems like the perfect time to give up. As Sloane eagerly waits for the barricades to fall, she's forced to witness the apocalypse through the eyes of five people who actually want to live. But as the days crawl by, the motivations for survival change in startling ways and soon the group's fate is determined less and less by what's happening outside and more and more by the unpredictable and violent bids for life – and death – inside. When everything is gone, what do you hold on to?

Yes, yes, I am in the minority of those who did not like this book. I didn't just "not like" this book. I straight up COULD NOT STAND IT. Courtney Summers can write some mean prose, but I found the entire book to be well-worded fluff. For a zombie novel, nothing really happened. There was a significant amount of walking and showering and having the same conversations over and over. But what really irritated me about this book was how stale all the characters seemed.

Let's start with Sloane, the narrator of this story. I'm just going to put it out there: I found her to be painfully unbearable, such a stark contrast to people who actually wanted to survive but couldn't. I found myself not caring whether she lived or died. In retrospect, I don't know if there was nothing happening in the book so much as that Sloane was only telling us the things she cared to see. She doesn't seem like the most reliable narrator.

Next: Lilly, Sloane's missing sister. I still don't understand why she had such a significant place in the story. I mean, it's not hard to infer – older sibling who cares for and bonds with younger sibling over their abusive father – but quite frankly, based on what Sloane tells us of her, Lilly sounds like a hypocritical control freak who just decided to cut loose.

Then there's Grace and Trace, whom Sloane finds herself hiding out with. Both Trace and Grace are utterly ridiculous and a pain to read. They are privileged, self-righteous, and obnoxious, and they are somewhat disturbingly obsessed with each other. Also, they are twins. Named Trace and Grace. Enough said.

Little Harrison was useless from beginning to almost the end. Courtney Summers could have left him out of the book entirely, and I honestly doubt anyone would notice – which is unfortunate since he's ignored and pretty incompetent and slightly invisible in the book as well.

Rhys and Cary were the only redeemable characters, in my view. Aside from Sloane, they are the only ones who had to make hard decisions, who did the best they could given the circumstances. I found it so frustrating that both of them were constantly torn down (mostly by T(/G)race) for having to make those decisions. Maybe I'm naive but in times of utter chaos/panic/uncertainty, I assume that people will work together to survive, instead of criticizing each other to no end. Sure, in real life, there are always those who will take advantage of others, but when people are in suffering and suffering together, I've always noticed people letting down their walls a little bit and compromising and forming more of a community. I don't know. Maybe my experiences and the stories I've heard are an outlier.

And I just have to ask... what was the point of Mr. Baxter? He was entirely a means to an end – he came out of nowhere, literally. All we got were some random details about his life before the zombie uprising and some vague notions of what happened after, but that whole part of the plot felt completely slapdash.

Honestly, This is Not a Test was probably the one book I found most difficult to finish this year. It was so nihilistic and filled with senseless death. I think there's meant to be a flicker of hope at the end of this book, but quite frankly I was too caught up in trying to figure out what all just happened in the last 15 pages to really grasp it.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Books I Want To Reread

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

When it comes to rereading books, I'm sort of... persnickety. If I'm obsessed with a book, you bet I'll reread my favorite passages over and over again, if not the entire thing. But if I love a book, then that's a different story.

Love and obsession are two entirely different animals, you see. Obsession comes and goes, and that's normal. Love is something you hope will last for a long, long time. And sometimes I'm afraid to go back and reread a book that I love for fear that it won't be as good as I remembered... because really, your reaction to a book often just comes down to timing. And sometimes you grow out of a book you once loved.

I'm very sentimental and can't stand the thought of that happening, which is why I don't always reread books, even though I would like to. These are my top ten books that I would like to reread someday. Some of them are books that I read too quickly and want to go back and savor; some are books I want to study and analyze a little bit more; and some are just books that I loved and think would still resonate, given where I'm at in life.

Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor. I can't remember this one all that clearly anymore, to be honest, but I know it sucker-punched me in the gut, and that's something I would apparently like to relive again.

Froi of the Exiles and Quintana of Charyn. Again, I would like to go through the heart-wrenching rediscovery of Froi and Quintana. I think Froi may be my all-time favorite Melina Marchetta boy. (I think I might love him even more than Jonah Griggs. Don't tell Jonah.)

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. I read this pretty quickly and found it kind of melancholic but thoughtful. The narrator has a perspective on life that mirrors my own, so it's somewhat eye-opening for me to read. A form of self-analysis, you could call it.

There is No Dog by Meg Rosoff. Kind of an edgy, dark book, if I remember correctly. It's got pretty low reviews on Goodreads, but for some reason I gave it 4 stars and I want to know why.

Heir of Fire. Truthfully, I love all the books in Sarah J. Maas' Throne of Glass series, but this one feels the saddest and pulls at my heart strings the most. Plus, I love the amount of character development that happens in this book, and it feels like every single person is at a turning point in Heir of Fire and it's filled with tension and just ahhhhh.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. One of my favorite books, yet I've only read it the one time. It's a good book to read in the fall, with a warm blanket wrapped around you and a nice mug of hot chocolate in hand.

Lighthousekeeping. My favorite Jeanette Winterson book. (Okay, okay. The only Jeanette Winterson book I've ever actually finished.) It is filled with the most beautiful passages. For a few years, I wanted one tattooed on me. I better reread this just to make sure that's still a good idea.

When I Was Five I Killed Myself by Howard Buten. Extremely intense book. I read this the summer I graduated high school and thought it was one of the most well-written, poignant books I'd ever read. I actually own a copy (found at Strand Bookstore after years and years of searching fruitlessly), so I could actually get on that.

The Song of Achilles. Such a tragic story, as most Greek myths tend to be, but what can I say? As evidenced by this entire list, I'm clearly a sucker for books that make me cry. The language is heavy and delicate at the same time, and I sort of want to memorize all of Madeline Miller's beautiful sentences.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

A Brief Intermission: The Song of Achilles

I just finished reading The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. It's the story of Achilles and Patroclus and it is flawless from the first page to the last. I will have so much more to say about it over the next week or two, but first:

Achilles was looking at me. "Your hair never quite lies flat here." He touched my head, just behind my ear. "I don't think I've ever told you how I like it."

My scalp prickled where his fingers had been. "You haven't," I said.

"I should have." His hand drifted down to the vee at the base of my throat, drew softly across the pulse. "What about this? Have I told you what I think of this, just here?"

"No," I said.

"This surely, then." His hand moved across the muscles of my chest; my skin warmed beneath it. "Have I told you of this?"

"That you have told me." My breath caught a little as I spoke.

"And what of this?" His hand lingered over my hips, drew down the line of my thigh. "Have I spoken of it?"

"You have."

"And this? Surely, I would not have forgotten this." His cat's smile. "Tell me I did not."

"You did not."

"There is this, too." His hand was ceaseless now. "I know I have told you of this."

I closed my eyes. "Tell me again," I said.