Saturday 29 October 2011

REVIEW - 'There Is No Dog', Meg Rosoff (Penguin, 2011)

It turns out that God is a teenage boy, a spoilt brat called Bob, whose whims and urges have resulted in a rather erratic existence on Earth. Only his unassuming assistant, Mr. B, is there to try and clear up any disasters that occur. When Bob falls in love with zoo-keeper, Lucy, how far-reaching will the consequences be for life on Earth?

Bit of an oddity, this one. Not entirely unsurprising given this is Meg Rosoff, and I never know quite what to expect when I pick up one of her books. It can vary between automatic entry to top 5 books of all time (How I Live Now), to 'is that it?' (Just In Case). This one definitely falls closer to the latter, but didn't quite hit the mark in the heart-breaking stakes. But it's just not that sort of book...

I've never come across a YA book quite like this one. It breaks all the rules of the genre (head-jumping mid-page, paragraph, sentence) but gets away with it. Only just, mind. This is down to the skill of the writer - I'm sure I've said this before, but I don't think I've come across an author who can say so much with so few words. Her prose is so intelligent and succinct and I found myself marveling at it at least once a chapter. This involves much eyebrow raising, in case you were wondering.

Hopefully you've read the synopsis as I'm not sure I'll do a great job of explaining it. In short, god is a teenage boy, which explains why earth is so f****d up. Whenever he falls in love, or lust, natural disasters ensue. Or 'sex weather' as it is so brilliantly put.

In this scenario, we get the perspectives from pretty much all the supporting characters - his depressed right-hand pleb, he pet 'Eck' (a sort of furry penguin creature), his sozzled mother, the secret love of his would-be girlfriend's mother. You get the picture. At times, it felt more like I was watching a play rather than reading a novel. You never really get under the skin of any of the characters, but this didn't really matter too much, as it never felt like the sort of book you are supposed emotionally invest in. More like a fable of human nature.

A unique, thought-provoking read. Big ideas. It makes me happy to think of this book creating discussions and debates between teenagers.

Tuesday 18 October 2011

REVIEW - 'Graffiti Moon', Cath Crowley (Pan MacMillan Australia, 2010)

After finishing Year 12, Melbourne teenager Lucy celebrates by embarking on a night of possibilities with her friends. Always on her mind is the possiblity of catching sight the mysterious street artist, Shadow, a boy she has set her heart on, despite never actually setting eyes on him. Instead, her path crosses that of Ed, a guy from a her past she would rather just forget...

And so, my quest to absorb as much Aussie YA as my brain can cope with in the next six weeks continues...

There's been so much contemporary YA from this country that being shouted about at the moment that's it's been tricky to decide what to feast on next. I've been reading and hearing many a positive word about this one. And I have been taking note and listening to these words studiously and have picked up a copy from trusted local library.

The downside of reading good reviews before you actually read good book - RIDICULOUSLY HIGH EXPECTATIONS. I try and I try to wipe away all preconceptions, but they do creep in, those little pesky critters and feast on my objectivity. I've read so much stuff recently that I have adored and I have to admit, this doesn't fall into that catagory. Definitely more of a like that than I love. It ticks all the right boxes, but it just didn't break/melt/ignite my heart in the way I expected it to. Just made it ZING just the teeniest bit.

I didn't really feel a great connection with Lucy from the start. The whole premise of falling for a myth, yes, I can buy that. But telling everyone about it? Would you? Really? I think not. She took this crush a little bit too seriously and comes across and a little bit too naive, which I just couldn't get past. Although I did start to warm towards her closer to the end, especially with her confusion and stress over her parents very confusing, very stressful relationship (a nice little sub plot there too).

Now, Ed, on the other hand... my kind of boy, without a doubt. I love my boy characters who wear their flaws on their sleeves. Man, if I was seventeen again... A great example of a well-rounded, complex YA hero, and I'm pleased the author gave up half the novel to his voice.

I'm a big fan of different story telling devices, and I liked the addition of Poet's little entries to break up the narrative. Although I wasn't that interested in the sub plot between Leo and Jazz (not a big fan of that name either, by the way), they gave us a little more insight into his relationship with Ed, and the book was all the better for it.

Overall, a good story, well-told. Just didn't get me into a emotional tizzy, I'm afraid.

Thursday 13 October 2011

REVIEW - 'Brown Skin Blue', Belinda Jeffrey (UQP, 2009)

Seventeen-year-old Barry Mundy, growing up with no father, a white mother and brown skin, is now a drifter, trying to come to terms with his darkest secret. When lands a job on a croc-jumping river cruiser in the 'top end' of Australia, how can he make sure that his past doesn't determine his future?

Anyone who assumes young adult fiction is all fluff and nonsense (we all know it is anything but, but many do not, or don't really want to know) should pick up this book and get completely lost in it. They really should.

I was a bit worried about starting this - I had the good fortune to attend a recent YA workshop run by the author - she was brilliant - encouraging and really inspiring, but part of me felt I wouldn't be able to completely enjoy the book because I'd been given an insight into the thought processes behind it. Is this a common worry? Anyway, I was being slightly ridiculous, because the writing is so damn good, I had no problem whatsoever getting lost here and had a fair few problems trying to find my way out again.

On the face of it, this is pretty bleak stuff. Barry is the recovering victim of a paedophile, struggling to come to terms with his past as he embarks on his sexual maturity. He decides he need to fill in the blanks of his family history and sets off to discover the identity of his father, escaping into fantastical story-telling when the reality never lives up to what he hopes.

Yes, weighty stuff, I think you'll agree. But as with most of the more serious, thought provoking reads, there is always a heavy dose of hope to get us through the rougher stuff. The balance here is just right - the author doesn't shy away from any of the more controversial material, and so she shouldn't, and Barry's pitch perfect matter-of-fact voice makes this all the more heartbreaking.

I love different story-telling devices and they're used to great effect here. Barry's thoughts on his potential father figures translate into fables reminiscent of those told in his childhood. This adds adds an ethereal layer to the stories, bringing together the themes of memory and fantasy. Just brilliant.

The supporting characters are all skillfully put to good use, fellow lost soul Sally, in particular showing us  how everyone has a story to tell and a secret to hide.

Just such an Australian book (and this is a major compliment, by the way) - the dusty setting, the dialogue, the vulnerability to the forces of nature, the isolation. I could almost smell the muddy river!

Very much recommended for pretty much everyone. In fact, I'm going to change my goodreads rating from 4 to 5 as soon as I've posted this.

Has anyone else read this one?

Thursday 6 October 2011

REVIEW - 'Looking For Alaska', John Green (Harper Collins UK, 2005)

Quiet outsider Miles Halter gets his wish of being transferred to the exclusive, unconventional boarding school, Culver Creek in order to seek out the 'Great Perhaps'. There, he falls under the spell of the equally unconventional Alaska Young...

This is my second encounter with John Green. Last year I picked a copy of 'Will Grayson Will Grayson' (collaboration with David Levithan) off the library shelf and thought it was bloody amazing  - a touch on the schmaltzy side, yes, but it had a feel good ending to beat all others. And it was intelligent, it didn't preach, it didn't patronise. I loved it.

Ok, I'll stop writing about that book and start writing about this book. Needless to say I had high expectations. And for the most part, they were met. Our narrator, Miles, or 'Pudge', as his is christened by his new best friends, it a good narrator - a reliable observer on a steep learning curve with plenty of 'firsts' to experience and plenty of questions to ask. He is likable and ever so slightly on the right side of annoying.

The structure is very clever and introduces an element of mystery - the first half leads up to the pivotal event of the book and the last half depicts the emotional aftermath. The pace doesn't sag and the whole thing kept me guessing (or am I just being a bit thick?). Yep, it ticks all the boxes so far...

HOWEVER, as with WGWG, these teenagers have a touch of the Dawson's Creeks about them - wordy, precocious, a bit....well, irritating, if I'm honest. This sort of pontificating just doesn't ring true as a teen experience for me. I found it very difficult to sympathise with Alaska, for instance, even after her back story is revealed. I'm pretty sure if I went to school with such an attention-seeking little madam then I would have avoided her like the plague. Consequently, I didn't really feel very emotionally involved with the story or most of these characters. For me this prevented a good book becoming a great book.

Right up until the last few pages I was bracing myself for a monumental anti-climax - I just couldn't see where the story could really go. But the last little nugget is brilliant - just keep reading, please. I think this is a book that would definitely benefit from a second read - not because I completely adored it and my life would not be complete without it, but because I think this is a case of the my personal enjoyment of the story improving with a better understanding of it - there are so many themes going on here, that I didn't really feel  their emotional whack until these final paragraphs.

Great writing, great plot, it just didn't grab me in the way I hoped it would. (But maybe it will in the future?)

Can I just mention the cover? I was reading the Harper Collins UK edition and I just loved it. I've discovered I'm a bit superficial when it comes to the packaging but this one is just PERFECT.