Friday, March 16, 2012

Review: ‘Looking for Alaska’ by John Green

Sixteen-year-old Miles Halter's adolescence has been one long nonevent - no challenge, no girls, no mischief, and no real friends. Seeking what Rabelais called the "Great Perhaps," he leaves Florida for a boarding school in Birmingham, AL. His roommate, Chip, is a dirt-poor genius scholarship student with a Napoleon complex who lives to one-up the school's rich preppies. Chip's best friend is Alaska Young, with whom Miles and every other male in her orbit falls instantly in love. She is literate, articulate, and beautiful, and she exhibits a reckless combination of adventurous and self-destructive behavior. She and Chip teach Miles to drink, smoke, and plot elaborate pranks. Alaska's story unfolds in all-night bull sessions, and the depth of her unhappiness becomes obvious.
(Amazon product description)

Looking for Alaska 

And the John Green love-fest continues!  Seriously, I think I may be falling in literary love with him.  Each one of his characters is people I genuinely want to hang out with.  Someday, I am going to become famous and powerful in the literary world, and John Green and Richelle Mead will be my BFF’s.  We will finish each other’s sentences and make people feel excluded by our plethora of inside jokes... *sigh* Until then, shall we get back to the book review?

In typical John Green fashion, the teens in Looking for Alaska are quirky and intelligent, yet incredibly realistic.  Miles hasn’t made much of an impact at his high school, so he goes off to boarding school looking for adventure...or at least something different from his boring life.  Through his roommate, Chip (who insists on people calling him The Colonel), Miles is drawn into an eclectic group of mischief makers.  He learns how to smoke, drink, stage elaborate pranks and gets his first experience with girls.  Each character in the group is so unique, but Green crafts a strong chemistry between them.  The Colonel is bossy and too smart for his own good.  Tikumi is a free-style rapper.  Lara is from Romania.  She comes across timid at first, but she has an underlying strength and courage inside.  And then there is Alaska.  Alaska is outspoken, impulsive, reckless, sexy and incredibly damaged.  Every boy except for The Colonel is half in love with her. 

As you can probably guess by the title, the plot of the novel revolves around Alaska, yet this is definitely Miles’s story.  He is the character who grows and changes throughout the story.  Alaska acts more like a catalyst for his transformation.  That’s my take anyway.  I’m sure some people could argue Alaska was the main character.  But as interesting as Alaska was, I was drawn more to Miles.  I found her too reckless and moody. 

Something I loved about this books is the author allowed the boys to show their emotions.  More than once, they were allowed to cry.  Yes, we all know boys can cry, but they also fight to hide these emotions.  There is a scene after a particularly horrible event where Miles and The Colonel are standing in front of their car holding each other and crying, and it was so moving.  Not once do they fear of what others might think about them.  For this reason alone, I think teen boys should read this book.

My only problem with the book, and it was minor, was that when Miles finally admitted to himself that he loved Alaska, it felt like the timing was off.  I get why he was attracted to her, but the “L” word was dropped a little too soon.  I don’t really think he loved her anyway.  He was drawn to her because she was everything he was not, but part of him wished he could be.  I think he cared for her deeply.  But there’s was not really a romantic relationship. 

Lastly, and I hate to do this, but I have to issue a bit of a warning to some parents.  There are a few things in this book which some sensitive parents might not like their teens reading, especially younger teens.  I guess if you are someone who cares about these things, you might want to read it yourself first before you buy it for your kid.  (Although, parents, unless your kids are abnormally sheltered, they know about all of this stuff already.)

Overall, I give Looking for Alaska...

Plot - 4 1/2 bookmarks
Character Development - 5 bookmarks
Dialog - 5 bookmarks (witty, but not unrealistically so)
Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) - Kristin Stewart (Alaska), David Kross (Miles), Joshua Logan Moore (The Colonel)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Review: ‘Sophie & Carter’ by Chelsea Fine

A girl. A boy. A porch swing.
Sometimes life breaks your heart.
And sometimes the boy next door puts it back together.
(Amazon product description)

Sophie & Carter 

Sophie is the daughter of a prostitute who leaves her for months at a time to care for her younger brothers and sister.  After Carter’s abusive father left him scarred and his mother with brain damage, he works desperately to care for his only parent left and keep her out of the state mental home.  At school they pretend they are normal high school seniors, but at home they are all the support each other have. 

This novella length story is powerful in its realism.  Somehow the author is able to make you feel for these characters without crossing over into melodrama.  The pain and poverty is a way of life for Sophie and Carter.  But at night when their charges are tucked in bed, the two meet on Sophie’s porch swing and pretend everything is going to be all right. 

The thing that moved me so much is the strong bond between the two characters.  They are able to communicate more with a look or a touch of the hand than most characters can in five pages of dialog.  That is some serious talent on the part of the author.  Part of me wished the story was longer, that I could stick with these characters through their lives’ journeys.  But in the end, I think the author ended it in just the right place--leaving me wanting more.

Overall, I give Sophie & Carter...

Plot - 4 1/2 bookmarks
Character Development - 5 bookmarks
Love Story - 5 bookmarks
Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) - Sarah Hyland (Sophie), Lucas Till (Carter)

Monday, March 12, 2012

Review: ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ by John Green

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.

Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning author John Green’s most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.

(Amazon product description)

The Fault in Our Stars

Ever since Will Grayson Will Grayson, I have been on a huge John Green kick.  Not only is he a humorous writer with a knack for creating great characters, but he is also a brilliant vlogger.  (Check him out on YouTube.)  Anyway, The Fault in Our Stars sounded like it was going to be a real tear-jerker...and there are some sad parts, but these characters do not want your pity.  This is no after school special and these kids are not perfect.  They don’t want to be inducted into Sainthood on their death just because they had cancer.  This made them feel real and sympathetic in a way that characters in the Lifetime Movies never quite achieve.

The relationship between Hazel and Augustus is so much more than their illness.  There is a deep understanding between them that their non-cancer peers can never fully feel.  The few strained conversations Hazel has with her best-friend-who-really-isn’t-anymore illustrate this so realistically. I imagine this is exactly how it would really be like. 

One of my favorite parts of the book is how Hazel and Augustus bond over this novel about a teen with cancer which cuts off without an ending.  I know this book, The Imperial Affliction, does not exist, but I would love to read it!  John Green, if you are reading this, think you can write it????  Oh, who am I kidding...John Green is not reading my little bloggy thing.  *sigh* 

The only thing that bothered me (and I mean slightly) was the characters were like these brilliant philosophical genius kids with vocabularies bigger than Thesauruses.  I’m not saying that smart teenagers are unrealistic, but the constant intellectual banter became a bit much in a few places.  Not enough to distract me from the story, but enough that I noticed a few times. 

Overall, I give The Fault in Our Stars...

Plot - 5 bookmarks
Character Development - 5 bookmarks
Love Story - 5 bookmarks
Dialog - 4 3/4 bookmarks (I only deduct a quarter of a point for the banter.)
Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) - Lily Collins (Hazel), Ed Speleers (Augustus), Rory Culkin (Isaac)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Review: ‘Anna Dressed in Blood’ by Kendare Blake

Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead.

So did his father before him, until he was gruesomely murdered by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father's mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. Together they follow legends and local lore, trying to keep up with the murderous dead—keeping pesky things like the future and friends at bay.

When they arrive in a new town in search of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas doesn't expect anything outside of the ordinary: track, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he's never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, now stained red and dripping with blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home.

But she, for whatever reason, spares Cas's life.
(Amazon product description)

Anna Dressed in Blood

I loved this book!  Cas has one of the best voices of a teenage boy that I’ve read in a really long time.  I’ve noticed a trend lately in authors wanting their characters to be “snarky,” but not every writer can write convincing snark...most come across like they’re trying too hard.  Cas’s voice was natural and relaxed.  He was funny, without trying to be.  Another great thing about Cas is he’s supposed to be this kick-ass ghost killer, yet the first time he meets Anna, she wipes the floor with him. I love it! 

Anna is a brilliant character.  She is terrifying and gory and homicidal...all of the things teen heroines are not.  The author took a real risk with her, but the risk paid off.  Anna transforms into a sympathetic character through the course of the novel, drawing the reader into her story and the mystery behind her death. 

Rounding out the cast are several other interesting and well-developed characters.  Cas’s mom is a Wiccan who hates what her son does and fears for his safety, yet she still leads him around the country from job to job, ghost to ghost.  Carmel starts off as a shallow popular girl, but turns into a loyal and trustworthy friend.  Thomas comes across as the stereotypical nerd, but he runs head first into Anna’s house to drag an unconscious Cas to safety. 

But for many readers, the characterization might take a backseat to the action and gore, of which there are plenty!  This novel is fun, but it is a horror novel.  It is a long way from the teen paranormal romances that are so popular these days.  I think the book will appeal to boys and girls equally.  The fight scenes are well done, and the details of blood and rotting corpses are not glossed over.  There is enough humor to keep the story from being too scary, so all but the most squeamish readers will be able to handle it. 

Overall, I give Anna Dressed In Blood...

Plot - 4 1/2 bookmarks
Character development - 12 bookmarks (Okay, I know my scale only goes up to 5, but this is my blog post, and I can rate the way I want. :)  )
Fight sceens - 4 1/2 bookmarks
Blood & guts - 5 bookmarks
Romance - 3 1/2 bookmarks
Dream cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) - Jamie Campbell Bower (Cas- as long as he can pull off and American accent), Lucy Hale (Anna), Sarah Gadon (Carmel), Aaron Johnson (Thomas), Diego Boneta (Will)