Rabbit Ears

Rabbit Earsrabbit ears cover art by Maggie DeVries deals with mature heavy subject matter. The tales of child abuse, drug addiction, prostitution, and death are sad and will be disturbing to some readers.

I found the narration to be disjointed. Sometimes I would miss that the perspective had changed, which doesn’t make sense because the two characters who tell the tale are very different and should have more noticeably distinct voices. Things unfold in a way that is not logical or linear. Some novels make this work, revealing bits in flashbacks, but it doesn’t work well in this one. I only start really connecting with Kaya in the last quarter of the book, and feel like I would have gotten more out of the first half of the novel with the back-story we receive too late.

There were two parts of the narration that worked well. The dissociation Kaya experiences, referring to herself in an odd way, is appropriate for the trauma she has experienced. That Beth felt her father’s illness more through her treatment at school then his behaviour at home was also poignant.

Kaya’s revelations in therapy are important aspects of the story. Readers can see, through her responses to the therapist, how she never understood that her abuser was manipulative or unkind. She thought he was good, except for one flaw, and only in having her situation framed by another’s words does she see what really happened. I think understanding her thought process will instill empathy for abuse victims and maybe help some young people to be aware of unhealthy relationships.

I respect DeVries attempt to portray a survivor of a situation that a loved one did not survive. I think it is well-meaning, but not as well executed as it could have been. My colleagues loved it and didn’t agree with my criticism.

Read-Alikes

 

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Swimmers

Cover artAmy Bright’s novel Swimmers is surprisingly light considering the heavy subject matter. Suicide, drug addiction, and bullying all play pivotal roles in the plot.

What makes the book shine is the friendship between Hunter and Poppy. Misfits who have been pulled out of their troubled lives, the teen and young girl have a companionship that is complex despite how little they actually speak to one another. He has a grudging respect for the girl, not wanting to admit at first that he needs a kid’s friendship.

Where the novel is struggles is the”voice. It didn’t sound like a teenage boy’s perspective, especially not a drug using, rough, trouble maker. He also didn’t feel depressed, certainly not enough to commit suicide. His point of view was too jovial for that, his observations too comical, his awareness of himself too strong.  The parts when he was recovered were more believable than when he was on drugs or depressed.  Usually first person narration allows the reader to experience the story, but Bright may have been better off writing in third person since she failed to capture the inner turmoil.

Part of the story takes place close to my home. At first I was excited to hear the names of familiar places, however the description of Kelowna did not match where I know the Greyhound station to be.

A sound plot, and interesting characters, but dark subject matter needs to delve deeper into the gritty feelings to have full impact.

Read-alikes

what is real thirteen reasons whyMy beating teenage heart

Capricious

Capricious is the sequel to Audacious by Gabrielle Prendergast. Every page is populated by beautiful verse. The poetry of it delights me. The imagery and stream of consciousness flow in a way that convincingly portrays the angst of teen life.

I felt it begun too abruptly, jumping right into her loss of virginity. The rest of the book I loved the gritty bits of desire and drugs but they were always framed successfully by her quirky observations of the world. The first page and chapter only work well if you’ve read the first book – which is unfortunate.

I can forgive this false step because of the mastery in the rest of the writing. From comparing a bikini wax to the chopping down of rain forests to the musings about loss of faith, Prendergast makes words into art with fantastic diction and tempo.

Often flawed characters are the most endearing. Ella’s questionable morals and decisions such as juggling two men don’t make the reader hate her because of the way Prendergast writes her internal struggle. She is finding pieces of what she needs in each of the young men- but neither of them is capable of making her feel whole. I think the struggle to understand relationships and love is well played out. The narrator is not a shining role model for teens, but feels like a real person shaped by her traumas, hopes and fears.

One of my favourite passages was where she describes the bus kneeling in supplication for Marika. The girl who’s disabilities don’t detract from her beauty and queenly personality. At one point she describes school as a “dystopian death match” with students writing essays in the blood of their classmates. The competitive nature of high school is reflected on repeatedly- comparing students to coyotes who are fighting for territory and dominance. This is a novel that tackles the tough topics of peer pressure, addiction, religion, relationships, illness, and depression. It doesn’t choose one above others and feel forced or didactic. Instead it succeeds in demonstrating how all the issues can pile up, drowning the people who are surrounded by varied struggles.

Karma

I received Karma by Cathy Ostlere as a submission for the YABA and it was selected as an honour book.

This is one of the most beautifully written novels I’ve read since my undergrad. It’s in verse, with the narration and dialogue formatted in a unique and stylistic manner. If not executed correctly such a bold format would have taken away from the story, but Ostlere used it to enrich the text. In stark contrast to the last novel I read, Blood Red Road, the dialogue flowed naturally and it was always apparent who was speaking even without quotation marks.

This novel illustrates the difficulties of immigration from the perspective of a first generation Canadian. Maya is Indian to Canadians, and Canadian to Indians. She is always the outsider, and stands out in every culture she belongs to. Born to a Hindu mother and a Sikh father, Maya follows elements of both religions and cultures. Her mixed heritage puts her in grave danger when during her trip to India the Prime Minister is murdered, and the two cultures go to war on one another.

The book is marketed as a love story, and it does contain a compelling one,  but that is not what got my attention. The very nature of humanity is explored as Maya deals with survivor’s guilt. It not only places blame on the rioters who burn men alive and rape young girls, but on those who stand by and do nothing to stop it. Maya is justifiably frozen by fear as the horrors take place, but she later thinks about how many lives could have been saved if the bystanders spoke up. The denial of everything that happened by the government and so many people in the city is chilling, and leaves a lasting impression.

The snowball effect of hate, as the men fight an eye for an eye reminds me of the beautiful take on a nursery rhyme that plays at the beginning of the film Free Zone. Click this link and read the subtitles. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FuBo5z0fr8A

This would be a fabulous choice for a book club, because it deals with so many great discussion topics:

-identity

-prejudice/acceptance

-depression/mental illness/suicide

-poverty/ class systems

-apathy/denial

-family

I think this novel has much wider appeal than it’s hot pink cover shows. I think the cover is beautiful with the swirly fonts, but there is plenty in this novel that would appeal to boys, and I don’t believe many would pick this up.

YA Saves

Books for teens are often criticized by adults as containing too much dark or disturbing content (example of protest). I myself sometimes warn in a review that a book contains mature subject matter, because some people choose not to read that, and that is their choice. However, I strongly believe that there is a need for books with this content, and that people have the right to access it.

One of subjects that sends parents and censors into protests is sexual abuse. The thing is, I personally know a shocking number of people who were abused or raped before they were twenty. As much as we would like to think this never happens, it does, probably even more so because people are too embarrassed, afraid or ashamed to talk about it and the abusers aren’t stopped. Teens going through this or who have in the past need to know that they are not alone. They need to see that others have gone through a similar experience and survived, found a way to cope and move on. Books are a fantastic way for them to see this, and reading is a private enough activity that many will feel comfortable doing this before talking to someone. If these teens only saw happy teens with perfect lives in literature they would feel even more outcast, and likely be less likely to read since books would not ring true to them. It is my understanding authors of books about abuse get tons of letters thanking them for giving a person the courage to talk about what happened to them.

Teens who have never been abused can benefit from these books as well. Like Melissa mentions it creates empathy. I would also argue that it creates caution. I don’t want these kids to be afraid of everything, but I do want them to be aware that not everyone is trustworthy, that not every date you go on ends well and you need to avoid dangerous situations, and stand up for yourself. Teens who have never had any exposure to the idea of date rape are much more likely to be susceptible to it.

Drinking and drugs are another big topic to be protested. I understand why there is a drinking age and why parents often have a no tolerance stance, BUT preaching against drinking because it is illegal and irresponsible pretty consistently leads to some rebellious consumption. It is important that teens know to recognize their limits and understand the dangers of substance abuse, just in case they do break the rules and drink or experiment with drugs. Reading about people overdosing, drinking and driving, becoming involved in crime, or getting addicted can be disturbing but for the most part it doesn’t make teens want to go out and do the same – just the opposite. Teens who have read about fatal alcohol poisoning are more likely to get help for their drunk friend.

Suicide, depression and self-harm are also hot topics. Depression is often misunderstood or brushed off as being over-dramatic, especially with teens who are stereotypically moody.  If no one in their life has been depressed or understands the depth of their depression teens feel even more isolated and hopeless. Reading about suicide prevents more suicides than it causes (and  I would argue it doesn’t cause any because those people who kill themselves after reading a book about suicide were already thinking about doing it), it makes teens take their issues seriously and consider getting help. Ignoring an issue does not solve it, and reading about other people with the same issues can help.

Again, like I said about abuse, teens who have never been depressed or suicidal learning about what others go through is a positive thing. It won’t make them depressed, sad sure, but in cathartic empathy building way. They will be more likely to be compassionate towards those that are depressed and not take talk of suicide lightly. They could save someone’s life by recognizing the signs they became familiar with in a book.

Many teens struggle with suicidal thoughts because they don’t fit in. Maybe they are LGBTQ in a homophobic community,  maybe they disagree with the faith system their family follows, maybe they are the only one of their race at their school….Reading allows teens to relate to someone, to see themselves as a part of something, and providing access to books that help these minorities can make a difference.

I believe that libraries have the responsibility to continue to make books with controversial subject matter available to youth who may not otherwise have access to it.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson

I borrowed Will Grayson, Will Grayson  by John Green and David Levithan from Okanagan Regional Library.

Basically, I loooooooooved this book!!!!

I heard great things about this book when it first came out (no pun intended) but I thought the story of two guys with the same name meeting might be kinda lame. I decided to give it a shot because I haven’t read much with LGBQT characters (basically just the Lord John series by Gabaldon)  and while there are some sources for gay reader’s advisory I like to diversify my reading.

The characters are unbelievably real. There’s something in the story about how we can be taken in by a fictional person, fall for someone who isn’t actually there, and I feel like I have with all of these characters. Not in a romantic way, just in a I would be their best friend kind of way. Each of the characters ooze with genuine personality. I adore flawed heroes and underestimated rejects and I got my fill of both.

The sarcasm, bluntness, confusion, and raw emotion that the authors throw at us is exquisite. I rarely feel this emotionally invested in a book, I laughed, I cried…it’s a good thing I decided to read at home instead of at the park because I probably would have looked mentally disturbed.

The language is fresh and young, completely realistic dialogue for online chat, texting and awkward conversations.

This was an amazing collaboration between authors. Alternating chapters is an interesting and effective way to get two writers involved in the same story and the distinct narrators of the same name make this possible.

This story deals with so many great things that it has something for everyone. A book club could discuss

  • Friendship
  • Clinical Depression
  • Love
  • Online Dating
  • Homosexuality
  • High school drama (as in plays not angst, although that too)

There’s swearing, talk about sexuality and talk about suicide so if you are sensitive about these things be forewarned, but I think that they add to the authentic feel and are important to getting the message across.

Passing Strange

Passing Strange by Daniel Waters is a Generation Dead novel. While I think the book is most effective read within the series it can stand alone. I’m going to outline some major issues it deals with and then talk about the plot.

“I pretended I wasn’t depressed. I pretended I wasn’t in love–look where that got me. I pretended lots of other thing too, and now I’m pretending I’m alive.”

Issues It Deals With

Passing Strange (Generation Dead, #3)Depression:

“sometime almost feeling alive is worse than not feeling alive at all. When I was depressed, that’s what I felt like, like I was almost alive. And knowing I’d never quite make it the rest of the way” (Waters 144)

Karen became a zombie because she killed herself, and in this book she explores why she did it,  “the blue fog took me away” (145). Throughout the book Karen brings up a “fog” of sadness that prevented her from enjoying or even fully participating in life. She was held back by her depression, and it seemed to define her.

Waters uses Karen to argue that “there aren’t any reasons for most young suicides beyond depression, just triggers” (145). He also offers some ways of dealing with depression; “Friend who can listen are a good antidote to the fog” (177).  In fact love and friendship seem to be what bring zombies back, the ones who have supportive families or relationships have better dexterity and speech. Love gets you through the zombish fog of depression.

I like that Waters doesn’t brush over Karen’s family’s reactions to her suicide. Her mother doesn’t want to deal with her at all, her father seems hurt and distant, and her sister doesn’t realize it ever happened. Her father’s private way of dealing with her death is explored in some detail later in the book (149), I won’t spoil it but it made me relate to him a lot better.

Homosexuality 

It takes a long time in the novel for her to come out and say it, but a factor in her suicide was her inability to come out of the closet. She talks about her confusion about her feelings, her denial to herself about being in love.

“I didn’t want to be gay. I was too scared to be gay.”(203)

She discusses how her fear of showing her true feelings in public or being seen with the girl she loved hurt that girl she was ashamed of. Karen had an extremely painful coming out to her mother, and partly because of this she continued to date boys even as a zombie. She has trouble reconciling her faith and her sexuality, and finds it easier to tell the priest she killed herself than telling him she is a lesbian. I’m definitely not an expert on the difficulties of having a minority sexual orientation but I think Waters did a good job at exploring the difficulty LGBQ teens face.

The Insightfulness of Young Children

Karen’s little sister Katy sees that there is prejudice going on and she doesn’t like it. Waters uses a scene of playing with Barbies to show that kids pick up on things. Katy makes her prettiest Barbie a zombie like her sister. She explains to Karen that no one likes this Barbie because she is dead, but that the Barbie shouldn’t be sad, because she still thinks she’s nice and pretty. This is Katy’s way of telling Karen she sees that she is being mistreated but she still loves her.

When Karen gets depressed again and spends all day in her room her very young sister comes to the conclusion that “the bad mans got you!” because she knows from overhearing adults that zombies are being slaughtered.

Prejudice in General

The zombies in Waters world have no civil rights; “We can’t get insurance. We can’t vote, we can’t get married. There isn’t much we can do” (92). This reminds me of in X-Men when Gene Gray goes to Washington to fight for mutant rights, even though in Passing Strange we only hear snippets from Tommy who has done just that.

Ok so now that I’ve talked about what issues Waters explores are you intrigued?

Plot

Karen is badly wounded in the attack that takes place at the end of Kiss Of Life but discovers that unlike any recorded zombie she has the ability to heal!  In no time she is her beautiful self again and looks and moves more human than any of her undead friends. She dyes her hair, uses colour contacts, makeup and voila she can pass as human. She works at the mall pretending to be alive, partly to prove she can, partly to lay the way for future zombies and also because she likes being treated like a human. When Pete, the guy who killed Adam in Generation Dead, flirts with her and doesn’t recognize her from the time he threatened to kill her she sees an opportunity. Now she must tolerate dating Pete to get close and prove that he framed zombies for violence and prevent him from murdering her best friend.

My Thoughts

I enjoyed the book a lot but maybe not as much as Generation Dead. It dealt more directly with the issues that were touched on briefly in the other books, this was great but slowed down the action. There were a few really suspenseful chapters that kept me up late because I couldn’t stop reading until I found out what happened. I will read pretty much anything Waters writes because he’s been consistently awesome.