Review: Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park
By Rainbow Rowell
(St. Martin’s Griffin, Hardcover, 9781250012579, February 2013, 336pp.)

The Short of It:

You know when you were in school and drew hearts all over everything to express your love for a particular thing or person? Well, if I could actually bring myself to write in a book, there would be hearts all over this one.

The Rest of It:

Eleanor, an awkward, “big girl” with crazy red hair, lives at home with her numerous siblings, her mother and her abusive stepfather. She’s poor. Poor enough to learn how to make do with what she has, and often, what she has is very little. Her crazy outfits make her the butt of everyone’s jokes and the morning bus ride to school is made worse by the fact that no one wants to sit next to her.

However, none of this goes unnoticed by Park. Park observes Eleanor from afar, before offering up the seat next to him. Half-Korean and in a circle of his own, Park is not popular, but not unpopular either. He’s able to blend, mostly because he grew up with these kids. There is a degree of respect for him, so once Eleanor accepts the next to him, the atmosphere changes ever so slightly. Hesitant to talk at first, the two bond over comic books. When Park notices that she’s reading his comic books as they lay open in his lap, he begins to bring them just for her. What happens next is nothing short of magic. These two unlikely characters forge a friendship, which eventually becomes love. Through music and comic books, they come together and once Park gets close enough to know Eleanor’s true story, he does everything in his power to save her.

Sometimes, I think the success of a book comes down to how well an author captures a feeling. Reading this book was like living my high school years all over again and I mean that in a good way. Even with all of the teen angst, the high school years are the ones that stick with you. Am I right? Good, bad, ugly. It’s the stuff of memories and that is why I enjoyed this book so much. Rowell’s ability to strip the characters down to their most vulnerable state is what makes this book so readable and probably why the characters felt so real to me.

I loved Eleanor’s awkwardness but I think I loved Park’s pragmatic approach to life even more. And his parents? So awesome. Loving, supportive parents who aren’t perfect. Sure, there was a heavy dose of sap when it came to the romance itself, but that’s how it is when you are young. You can’t wait to see each other and you do nothing but obsess about it until you do. Rowell captures it all beautifully.

One bonus to reading this book is that it’s set in the 80’s and the musical references are like whipped cream added to a sundae. Delightful! I grew up in the 80’s so that entire decade is near and dear to my heart but this book has a little something for everyone. I highly recommend it.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Looking for Alaska

Looking for Alaska

Looking for Alaska
By John Green
(Speak, Paperback, 9780142402511, 2006, 256pp.)

The Short of It:

Highly praised, yet failed to deliver in the end.

The Rest of It:

*No Spoilers*

I recently reviewed Green’s latest book, and loved it, so when I saw this one at the library, I immediately snatched it up.

Miles moves from Florida to Alabama to attend Culver Creek Preparatory School. There, he meets his roommate “The Colonel” also known as Chip Martin. Miles wasn’t all that popular at his previous school, in fact…no one really knew he existed so when Chip shows an interest in him, he eases into the friendship knowing that it could disintegrate at any moment. After their brief introduction and receiving the nickname of Pudge (even though Miles is skinny as a rail), Miles is introduced to Alaska Young.

Alaska is witty and beautiful and different from the girls back home but she is also taken. Her college boyfriend is mentioned numerous times but is never seen. This mysterious air is what attracts Miles to her, but it’s also what frustrates him most. Especially when she goes missing and he and Chip are left to figure out what happened.

The story is broken up into two parts, before and after with before being the events leading up to her disappearance, and after, the events that followed it. As a reader, I knew right away that something was going to happen, but I had no idea what. With each chapter breaking it down even further (2 months before, 28 days after, etc), which worked to a degree as I certainly felt the tension build, the end result was not what I had hoped for. The ending left a lot of questions unanswered and to be honest with you, this pissed me off. The structure begs for resolution. You cannot lead a reader down the before/after path and not give them something in return!

My reaction to the ending, affected my overall enjoyment of the book itself. Putting the ending aside, I will say that I enjoyed the dialogue between the characters and the development of Miles over time. He is a likable character and his interactions with the other characters were often entertaining if not, enjoyable. Scores of readers have praised the book for its emotional punch so perhaps its magic was lost on me. After all, I am not a young teen by any stretch of the imagination and that is what this book is geared towards even with its numerous mentions of alcohol and sex.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Speak

Speak

Speak
By Laurie Halse Anderson
(Speak, Paperback, 9780142407325, April 2006, 224pp.)

The Short of It:

Deceptively powerful.

The Rest of It:

Melinda’s first day of high school is even more horrid than she imagined. The friends that she had during the summer, are no longer speaking to her. Her decision to call the police during a summer party has made her the most unpopular person on the planet and no one wants anything to do with her. Once well liked and popular, Melinda finds herself navigating the first year of high school alone. No one knows her true reason for calling the police that night and if they did, would they even care?

Without going into too much detail, Melinda’s situation is not uncommon (unfortunately), but a situation that has the power to destroy and devastate on many levels. Broken and alone, her only option is to become silent. Turning inward, she attempts to make herself invisible and takes to hiding in a janitorial closet at school. As her grades slip, her parents fail her miserably in their poor attempt to understand what she is going through. With no immediate help, she begins to express herself artistically in the only class that she enjoys.

Speak is intensely powerful, yet tastefully done. I’m surprised that so many schools have added it to their banned book lists because it’s a book with an important message and one that deserves to be read. Anderson does a stellar job of conveying Melinda’s pain. There were many times where I found myself thinking about my old high school days, and even though that part of my life took place years ago, not much has changed. Kids can be jerks and “friends” come and go like the tides. The only way to deal with it is to know that you have value and that your voice matters no matter what others think.

Speak has been out for quite some time, but it’s a classic in that it deals with issues that all teens deal with. If you have a teen in your home, I urge you to read it first, share it with them, and then have a discussion about it.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Heft

Heft

Heft
By Liz Moore
(W. W. Norton & Company, Hardcover, 9780393081503, January 2012, 352pp.)

The Short of It:

If you are looking for a book that is wonderful, heartbreaking, touching and incredibly meaningful… then you’ve found it.

The Rest of It:

At age 60 and over 500 pounds, Arthur Opp finds himself in a strange predicament. For twenty years, he’s remained in his house, refusing to go outside. What he needs, he has delivered to the house. Food, supplies, you name it. He’s a thoughtful man, and very lonely yet he’s been removed from society for so long, that he fears he may never leave the house again.

Charlene, was a student of Arthur’s in college. While taking his class, she and Arthur had a connection that neither of them could explain. Charlene, plain and socially awkward, found a friend in Arthur that she’s not had since. Not even after 20 years. Although their physical friendship ceased after she left college, she continued to write letters to Arthur for a few years and those letters meant more to him than she could ever possibly know.

Now, twenty years later, Charlene writes to Arthur once again to tell him of her son, Kel. She asks Arthur if he can help Kel by providing the guidance that he so desperately needs. Arthur’s excitement over her letter, sets a series of events into motion. For one, the hiring of  maid. An act that causes great stress for Arthur, after all…no one has been in his house for years, yet with this stress, comes friendship (of all things) and his friendship with Yolanda, the maid, brought many smiles to my face.

This was a fabulous read. Absolutely fabulous and it brought me to tears numerous times. These characters are wonderfully flawed and honest and vulnerable and well…real. It’s the type of book that has you cheering for EVERYONE and that is such a rare thing, to be able to cheer for everyone. The story is told by Arthur and Kel in alternating chapters and let me tell you, the structure worked for me. The beginning was a tad slow, just a tad but once you get going, you won’t be able to put it down.

Plus, this is the first book I’ve read that had a character with Lupus. As a person who tests positive for Lupus every now and then, I am happy to see Lupus getting some attention. It’s a disease that affects many, yet many haven’t a clue what it is. Although it wasn’t the focus of the story, the effect that is has on one of the main characters is touching and heartbreaking and devastating in the way only a serious illness can be.

As I was reading this book, I felt that it could easily cross into Young Adult although it’s not classified as such. It’s an easy read, yet deals with some really heavy themes, all of which held my attention and made me love this book even more.

Heft will definitely be one of my faves for 2012. I want everyone to read it.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Thirteen Reasons Why (audio)

Thirteen Reasons Why (Audio)

Thirteen Reasons Why (audio)
By Jay Asher
Read by: Debra Wiseman and Joel Johnstone
(Listening Library (Audio), Compact Disc, October 2007, 9780739356500)

The Short of It:

An absolutely riveting, cannot-turn-off story about a young girl explaining why she decided to take her life.

The Rest Of It:

Clay Jensen comes home from school and finds a package waiting for him. Inside the box, is a set of cassette tapes made by one of his classmates and crushes…Hannah Baker. The only problem is that Hannah killed herself just two weeks prior. These tapes are her thirteen reasons why.

This is a wonderful book. I originally chose it for The Boy but when he told me how much he was enjoying it, I made a mental note to read it myself. Luckily for me, the audio was available so I snatched it up.

Hannah’s story is just heartbreaking. Here is a girl, who is pretty, popular and living in a supportive home, yet she falls between the cracks and slowly begins to lose herself. She is not bullied in a traditional sense, but she is the subject of rumors and those rumors lead to abuse of a different kind. On her way to invisibility, she reaches out for help (numerous times) but her cries for help fall on deaf ears.

The cassette tapes that she’s left behind are to be shared with the thirteen people responsible for her collapse. The story alternates between Hannah’s voice, and Clay’s, who doesn’t understand why he is included in this group, until he listens to his section of the tape. This method of sharing her story often brought tears to my eyes, because as a reader, you know there is no daring rescue at the end. You  know the outcome and all you can do is sit there, shaking your head, wondering how many young kids are out there today, thinking the same thing.

The readers for this novel are amazing. Debra Wiseman plays Hannah perfectly. The pain, the angst and the frustration all come through beautifully in her reading. Johnstone also does an excellent job portraying Clay. He has this wide-eyed, sensibility that makes you like him even more. Innocent, but not stupid. Very touching at times.

On that note, I want to share this video with you. It has nothing to do with this book, but I came across it while reading the book and it brought me to tears. My son was a student ambassador for his middle school, and when he was, I always reminded him that a kind word, said to a troubled kid, could be the difference between life and death. Plus, it includes the awesome singing group, Ahmir. I adore them. Please watch it. Such an important message.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Before I Fall

Before I Fall

Before I Fall
By Lauren Oliver
(HarperCollins, Hardcover, 9780061726804, March 2010, 480pp.)

The Short of It:

Absolutely riveting, from beginning to end.

The Rest of It:

After dying in a car accident, Samantha Kingston is forced to relive her last day a total of seven times. As repetitive as this sounds, each day is slightly different, and with her being a popular high school student, there are lots of choices to make. Some good, some bad and some with horrible consequences.

Realizing that I would be taken through her last day over and over again, I worried that it would be a bit like that movie Groundhog Day, where the main character was forced to repeat his day again and again (I really didn’t like that movie), but Oliver manages to keep it interesting. I could not put it down and sped through it in just a couple of sittings.

Samantha is a popular girl and runs with a fast crowd. There is a lot of drinking, and sex is THE big topic of discussion, but if you are able to put that aside, you’ll see Before I Fall for what it is, an absolutely riveting read about living life to its fullest.

Would I let my daughter read it? The Girl is only seven, but if she were thirteen or fourteen, I’d have no problem with her reading it. It brings up issues that teens face every day: underage drinking, sex, eating disorders, popularity and being different. I don’t think it hurts for young girls to think about these things. In fact, I think it helps them make better decisions in the long run. I think male readers would find value in reading it as well.

That said, once you start this book you will not be able to put it down and although it’s certainly geared towards young adults, older readers will find it just as readable. Highly recommend.

Source: Borrowed

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