Books Read in 2015 51. Looking for Alaska – John Green

Genre: Young Adult, Bildungsroman

Narrative Style: First person

Rating: 4/5Unknown

Published: 2006

Rating: 4/5

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Miles Halter thinks that going away to boarding school is going to be a great adventure but little prepares him for the way his life is going to change when he meets Chip Martin and Alaska Young. 

I had mixed feelings about reading another John Green. While I enjoyed the others that I read, I also found his style a little annoying as everything is overblown with significance. However, I enjoyed this more. Maybe it is because it was his first novel but it isn’t quite so over the top.

The characters were well drawn and I took to Miles straightaway with his obsession with last words and his longing for something more. I have to say that these kids are much more well read and intellectual than most of the teenagers that I come into contact with but that is not to say such kids don’t exist. Both Alaska and Chip were convincing as well, both representing different sorts of teenage angst.

The story counts down – some many days before – to an event and I have to admit, I did not see what this event would be. I assumed that this was the prank they were planning and not the terrible thing that actually happened. As a result, I was completely shocked and upset by it – almost as much as Miles himself.

Ultimately this is a book about grief and about learning to let go, lessons Miles in particular finds it hard to learn. it is about growing up and about not giving up. In the end, I felt hopeful for Miles and for his future.

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Books Read in 2015 – 39. Divergent – Veronica Roth (Contains spoilers)

Genre: Young Adult, Dystopia

Narrative Style: first person, chronologicalDivergent_(book)_by_Veronica_Roth_US_Hardcover_2011

Rating: 3/5

Published: 2012

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: In the future, society is divided up into factions based on personality types – abnegation, amity, cantor, dauntless and erudite – and all children must choose their faction when they are 16. While undergoing the tests that will help her decide, Beatrice discovers that she is another type altogether – she is divergent. She is warned to keep this secret at all costs. 

It is almost inevitable that I would compare this to The Hunger Games, having read that series fairly recently. Unfortunately I didn’t find this scenario quite as convincing. Although I understand the point that Roth was trying to make, it just didn’t ring true the way that the world of The Hunger Games did. Also, it meant that some of the characters seemed a little one sided as they were representing an entire personality type. Nevertheless, the story has a lot of tension and so I did want to find out what happened next and I didn’t have any problem reading to the end.

I liked the fact that the setting was recognisably Chicago and the way that this suggested a not too distant future. The landmarks are used well by Roth and are not merely window dressing. I particularly liked the parts where they climb the ferris wheel and when they zip-line off the Hancock Building. Having been to the top of the Hancock Building helped me imagine how terrifying that moment would have been.

As with Katniss, I did find Tris a little annoying. As I have said before, I am sure this is mostly because I am not a teenage girl anymore. At times, she did seem wilfully blind as to what was going on about her but I guess that was supposed to add tension to the story. I wasn’t sure whether Roth meant the reader to be one step ahead of her or not.

I enjoyed all the descriptions of initiation and the problems that Tris and the other initiates faced. Roth offers the reader two forms of authority  – two ways of being Dauntless – as the contrast between Four and Eric is described. Obviously this relates to the transition of teenagers into adults and learning about the correct way to be in charge. At times, this was a little trite but again this may be merely an adult perspective.

The romance between Tris and Four wasn’t too distracting from the action. Four was one of the more interesting characters – he was more ambiguous at first. The only point I found unconvincing was when he was part of the simulation and Tris miraculously brings him out of it due presumably to the intensity of their love. That was a bit nauseating.

Obviously, the book is part of a series and ends in such a way that you are supposed to rush off and buy the next one. I don’t really feel compelled to do that. I will probably read the next one but I am in no rush to do so.

Books Read in 2015 – 24. The Giver – Lois Lowry

eclecticreader15

Genre: Young Adult, Dystopia

Narrative Style: Third person from one point of view

Rating 3/5Unknown

Published: 1993

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Jonas’s world is perfect. No one is ever hurt or upset. Their roles are carefully chosen and everyone fits right in. Even death has become something to celebrate with the ceremony of release for the old. However, as Jonas discovers when he is given the role of Receiver of Memory, underneath the surface there is pain. But there is also love and passion and colour. Jonas has to decide whether the love is worth the pain.

Reading challenges: eclectic-reader-challenge-2015/- genre: Middle grade / Young Adult adventure

This book is interesting rather than exciting. At first, it seems that there is no problem with Jonas’s world. Everyone is happy because no one can remember or process upset or dissatisfaction. Everyone is the same. There are hints of the extent that the society is controlled – for example when Jonas takes an apple home that should have been eaten as a snack – but it isn’t until Jonas receives his new role at age twelve that the reader gets to see exactly what is missing from this society.

Jonas is to be the new Receiver of Memory. He has to visit The Giver who passes on the memories physically to him. Some of the memories are good – they are of family get togethers and having fun in the snow. Others are painful, memories of war or injury. Most interestingly, it transpires that Jonas’s people cannot see colour so that everyone is literally the same. (It isn’t explained how this has come about but I’m going to assume it was some genetic cleverness that somehow bred out the ability to see colour.) Jonas has already had hints that he can see colour and once he can, the world of his community seems terribly dull.

Quickly Jonas learns that nothing is quite what it seems. He discovers exactly what happens when people are released and realises with horror that some people – himself included – are allowed to lie to everybody else about what actually happens in their jobs or when people are released.

I was quite interested up until this point. The importance of memory – be it good or bad – cannot be doubted and when The Giver and Jonas decide to give some memories back to the community, I thought it would be quite exciting. However, the story just fizzles out from this point onwards and I think Lowry squandered what she created. Jonas runs away, taking with him a small child who is about to be released. They obviously quickly run into trouble away from the community as they have very little food and the weather is not controlled, unlike in the community. Jonas’s death seems inevitable although Lowry makes it into a spiritual experience where Jonas remembered one of the more pleasant memories he had been given.

This left me wondering exactly what point Lowry was trying to make. Obviously, Jonas died because he separated himself from the community so was she suggesting that any regime, however horrible, was better than individualism. It would have been more interesting to see the effect that the memories that were released had on everyone in the community but that is never mentioned.

Ultimately, this was an interesting idea that I feel was underdeveloped and left me with a bit of a sour taste. In the end, I just wasn’t sure what Lowry’s message was and that made me feel a bit uncomfortable.

Books Read in 2015 23. I am J – Cris Beam

eclecticreader15Genre: GLBT, Young Adult

Narrative Style: Third person, chronological

Rating: 3/5

Published: 2011

Format: Kindle9780316053617

Synopsis: J may have been born a girl but he has always known that wasn’t who he really was. Now he is seventeen, he realises that he needs to do something to bring his body into line with who he feels he is. However, his parents and friends don’t always find his new identity easy to deal with. 

Reading challenges: Eclectic Reader Challenge – genre diversity.

I always find it a bit of a problem reading accounts from a teenage point of view because the main characters always seem so self centred and difficult. Perhaps it is just too long since I was that age for me to really be able to identify with them. I’m sure that if you were the same age as J then you wouldn’t have this problem.

J is quite difficult to like. While I understand that being trans is difficult and would make you angry, there is little more to J than his anger and his gender. There is little sense of what sort of person he was. Perhaps this is because he is so desperately trying to be like the other boys that he never really develops his own identity. Again, I can see how this might be the case but it still made J difficult to get on with.

There is a lot of gender stereotyping in this book – and I have found this with other trans books I have read. A lot of boys do this, girls do that. This is never really questioned and I found that and J’s homophobia very irritating.

This book was not written by someone who is trans but by someone who has had a lot of dealings with people who are trans and this comes across I think. J is an amalgam of everybody who has ever been in his situation and Beam throws everything at the story – lying mother, distant father, friend who can only think of herself, older wise trans woman and so on.

There is no doubt that it is good that books about being trans are now being written and maybe if I was trans I would find more to identify with here. However, instead, I  felt detached and unable to completely empathise with J and that made me feel a little sad.

Books Read in 2014 – 52. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

200px-WillGraysonGenre: glbt, young adult, romance

Narrative Style: switches between two first person narratives, chronological

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2010

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: On the streets of Chicago, two teenagers called Will Grayson are having the worst night of their lives. Then they bump into each other and their lives change. 

This was, for the most part, a very pleasing read. The chapters alternate between Green’s Will Grayson and Levithan’s will. They are suitably different from each other and have different problems. I preferred Levithan’s will from the first as I felt I could relate to his depression. Green’s Will seemed more determined to make problems for himself and was less likeable. I liked the lack of capitalisation in Levithan’s chapters as it fitted well with that characters low self-esteem.

The story moved along quite quickly and the romances were well handled. Will Grayson’s confusion over whether he liked Jane or not was funny and apt whilst the romance between will and Tiny was touching and difficult. Between them they seemed to cover all the possible teenage romance problems without being too unsubtle.

In fact, I was close to giving this novel 5/5. There were a number of reasons why I didn’t. First of all, I felt Green’s characters were too large for the page and like in The Fault in our Stars, they were hard to get attached to because they seemed to represent so much. Tiny, in particular was annoyingly loud and painfully self-centred. He seemed to embody every gay stereotype. will was more convincing because he was just a teen who happened to be gay. I was actually pleased when the romance between will and Tiny did not work because I felt that will deserved better.

I’m not a fan of musicals. Although there was no singing, obviously being as how it is a book but even so there were songs. And while they were often witty, they were annoying. People bursting into song – hypothetical or otherwise – does not appeal to me.

Finally, the ending seemed to be quite sudden. Partly, this was due to reading on my kindle which claimed 91% because there was an interview with the two authors and an extract from The Fault in Our Stars but I could have read more. I thought that all the Will Graysons offering support to Tiny was a little sentimental although the two Wills were both in better places at the end so that was pleasing.

All in all, a witty and insightful look at teenage romance. The sort of book I wish I could have read when I was sixteen.

 

Books Read in 2014 – 23. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (Contains Spoilers.)

Genre: Dystopia, Young Adult

Narrative Style: First person narrative, chronologicaldownload (6)

Rating: 2.5/5

Format: Kindle

Published: 2010

Synopsis: Having been pulled from the arena at the end of Catching Fire, Katniss finds herself in the hands of the rebels. She is reluctant to accept the role of Mockingjay but does so when she realises what the Capitol has done to Peeta. The battle for supremacy between the rebels and the Capitol begins in earnest.

This is definitely the weakest book of the trilogy. I was keen to read on at the end of Catching Fire. It wasn’t obvious what would happen to Katniss and I dived in straightaway. It wasn’t long before I felt disappointed though.

There were a number of reasons for this. First of all, Katniss is whinier than ever, determined to take the blame for everything and reluctant to accept her new role. I found her even more irritating than usual. She is naive in her views and the reader is probably supposed to find this innocently refreshing but to me it just seems unrealistic. Gale is much more pragmatic but no less annoying as he seems more a rebel mouthpiece than a real character. The transformation of Peeta to a tool of the Capitol didn’t convince either. He moved between good Peeta and evil Peeta at the mercy of the plot with little thought for his actual character. I didn’t believe in either role. Especially as it started to be apparent that he and Katniss would end up together. There was no tension as to whether his good side would return.

A bigger problem is that of the action, a lot of which happens away from Katniss. The reader is then given a couple of paragraphs about what has happened. (This will be solved in the film, I guess where they will be more able to use multiple viewpoints.) This is particularly troublesome after Katniss shoots Coin and there is a trial happening while Katniss is singing to herself in her cell. But it’s okay because she is found innocent and allowed to go home. Very unsatisfactory.

The ending was equally unsatisfactory. (In fact, about halfway through I realised that there was no way this could end in a way that would please me. I’m glad that Katniss didn’t end up with Gale but the idea that she was able to have a family with Peeta was just as problematic to me.) The epilogue was mawkish and sickening. I felt the same at the end of the last Harry Potter. I’m not sure why it is felt to be necessary. It wasn’t a fairy tale so why end with a happily ever after?

To end on a more positive note, there are some interesting ideas in this novel – the use of propaganda, the nature of warfare, the way power corrupts, for example – I just wish that they had been played out in a different way.

 

Books Read in 2014 – 22. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Genre: Dystopia, Young Adult

Narrative Style: First Person narrative, largely chronologicalcatchingfire02-718973

Rating 3/5

Format: Kindle

Published: 2009

Synopsis: Following their win at the Hunger Games, Katniss and Peeta are preparing themselves for their victory tour and the next games. As this is a celebration of 75 years of the games, it calls for a special games to be designed, one which Katniss and Peeta will never forget.

I read The Hunger Games last year and I have to admit, I didn’t feel particularly compelled to read on. However, I always meant to read the others and so I finally got round to downloading Catching Fire and Mockingjay onto my kindle.

If anything, I enjoyed this more than The Hunger Games. The plot twists were a little less blatant and I loved the idea of the clock shaped games arena. The Capitol and the gamemakers seemed more cruel and some of the weapons / tricks played within the arena were truly horrible.

The book trotted along and I did find it hard to put down. I wanted to know that Katniss and Peeta would survive. Or rather how they would survive – the existence of a third book suggesting that they both lived through this one. I was glad to have the third one ready and waiting as the end of this one was much more of a cliff hanger than the last one.

I still found Katniss intensely annoying. She is constantly selfish, ignorant and mistrustful. The way she swings between Gale and Peeta is also irritating. While she is a strong lead character who takes action, she is often in the wrong or acts in a foolish way. She was hard to like. Whilst, on the one hand, Peeta is more sympathetic, in some ways he is just as annoying. His essential goodness doesn’t quite ring true.

The final reveal at the end of the book and Katniss’ reaction too it seemed a little forced and sudden. More subtle clues throughout might have helped with this. The appearance of Gale at the end and his rebel status also did not quite convince.

Maybe I’m being a bit harsh but I did feel that I constantly wanted to shake Katniss. Maybe, again, it is just that I am too far removed from Katniss’ age to really be able to relate to her. Certainly, the idea of these books is strong and interesting, I was left feeling that the execution could have been better.