Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

12000020Benjamin Alire Saenz has a way with words. He writes lines that describe feelings that are rarely reflected on so well in teen literature or maybe any literature.

This is a novel that explores the subtleties of being a teen. The ambivalence towards parents is handled beautifully. There’s the perfect mix of resentment, affection, criticism and respect in Ari’s feelings for his parents. The mix of anger and adoration fit with his situation.

The characters are deep and interesting. Ari and Dante are both philosophical and have a sarcastic sense of humour. Their coming of age tale is about more than their relationship because both characters are complex and have other conflicts going on in their lives.

With Mexican-American homosexual characters this book will add diversity to a library collection.

There were times when I felt the characters seemed younger than the age stated in the book. Their curiosity and embarrassment about their bodies was coming a couple of years late in my opinion but maybe I’m just more familiar with girls and boys do mature slower.

*spoiler alert*

There was a chemistry between the boys that made it more compelling to me then other LGBQT titles I’ve read such as Moon At Nine. Even when they were just talking Ari and Dante had a spark. They felt like a couple even before Ari let himself realize what he was feeling.

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Moon at Nine

Moon at Nine by Deborah Ellis is based on a true story.  The tale of a girl in Iran who falls in love with her female classmate is heartbreaking and perhaps eye-opening to many readers. Farrin and Sadira are sweet innocent girls who experience persecution for their sexual preference.

I found it interesting that Farrin didn’t care much about the politics that surrounded her until she was directly affected. Her parents supported the opposite regime than the one her school supports. She is is bombarded by two views of how the country should be run but doesn’t really take a side. Neither side is tolerant of her creativity, curiosity or romantic interests.

Reading about the troubles the girls face should make Canadian youth grateful that we don’t have regular bombings, executions for minor crimes, and extreme sexual discrimination. The school the girls attended was progressive in many ways, valuing intelligence in women- but it makes me sad that the best they could hope for was to be paired with a powerful man.

Ellis explores many social issues from class divide, to racism. The novel is powerful in terms of subject matter, but I have several concerns about the execution of the writing:

  • The dialogue is overly formal- even when it’s letters or whispers between the girls. This may be a reflection of their culture but I think Canadian teens will see it as forced and artificial. It doesn’t have a natural flow that some authors master.
  • For a story of forbidden love there was a serious lack of heat. To go against the laws of their country and family to be together I would expect more chemistry between them. They acted more like best friends than lovers for the most part.
  • The adults are all despicable. This is often the case in YA where the teens are the heroes and the parents are villainized. I think their flaws should be explored but there should be a couple of adults who are well rounded people, not just caricatures. In this novel there were many adults barely mentioned and those that had an emphasis were defined entirely by their flaws.
    • The shallow, vain, nostalgic guests at the tea parties lead by Farrin’s superficial and selfish mother
    • Farrin’s exploitative, greedy, prejudice father
    • Sadira’s mentally absent father

The only exception is the principal who shows some kindness in the end but given what she has done, and the circumstances I don’t think this came close to redeeming her as a figure of good.

Farrin liked to think that the demons in her stories were just demons but she learned that they were a reflection of the negativity she saw in the people around her, and the leaders of all the countries- for the book doesn’t take sides, she criticizes all parties.

 

Dance of the Banished

Danced of the Banished is a fictional story based on true circumstances. It’s a sad story of violence, discrimination and exploitation in 1914, but it’s also about a long distance romance.

The most enjoyable and enlightening part for me is when Zeynep encounters the missionaries and is baffled by how the “civilized” people trying to force their culture on others is not as wise and functional as the “savages” .

This is something that could enrich a history of social studies class. However, I can’t see any average Canadian teens reading it for pleasure. The pace is slow, the dialogue is choppy and the narrators don’t have youthful “voices” that I feel will appeal to teens.

I think I’d market this to an older audience- not because of mature content but because of the pace, tone, and diction.

Playing With Matches

cover artSuri Rosen’s debut novel demonstrates a talent for narration. The quick witted observations of the narrator reminded me of Gilmore Girls (a show I adore). The writing flows, in an easy conversational manner that will work for reluctant readers.

The novel explores the difficulties of finding love. It shows readers the extra challenge that finding someone within a small faith community can be, especially with the added pressure from family to settle down when you’re young. The dishonesty,divas, and other dilemmas are cause for both distress and amusement. The protagonist is impulsive and irresponsible but has many endearing qualities.

I’m skeptical about the wisdom to rush back into to dating after a broken engagement, the hasty proposals, and many other tidbits of advice that she offers with some success to her “clients”. Perhaps the reason for so many broken engagements in the story is people didn’t get to know each other first?

It was an amusing read, with a writing style I enjoyed. I think it will be most popular with Jewish teen girls, but you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy it. Red Sox fans will probably find more in common with the characters as well.

Pandemonium

cover art of pandemoniumPandemonium is the 2nd book in the trilogy that began with Delirium. If you haven’t read that, go do so before reading this.

It seems like a long time since I stepped into Lauren Oliver’s dystopian world where the book of shhh badmouths love as a disease. However, I had no trouble getting reacquainted with the setting or characters. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about how the novel jumps back and forth in time but I thought this was expertly executed. It was helpful that she used chapter breaks to jump in the timeline, because you couldn’t skim and miss that it was happening.

Oliver writes about grief in an eloquent blunt fashion that makes it impossible not to relate to the loss being experienced.

grief is like sinking, like being buried. I am in water the tawny color of kicked-up dirt. Every breath is full of choking. There is nothing to hold onto, no sides, no way to claw myself up. There is nothing to do but let go.

Let go. Feel the weight all around you, feel the squeezing of your lungs, the slow, low pressure. Let yourself go deeper. There is nothing but bottom. There is nothing but the taste of metal, and the echoes of old things, and days that look like darkness ( )

Her prose is full of imagery and powerful emotion.She spends a page describing tree fungus and concludes;

that is what hatred is. It will feed you and at the same time turn you to rot.(pg 166)

Not long after that she has a character describe midnight as smelling like paper, connecting memories of scent to present experience and highlighting the human experience that the people in her fictional world give up for a sense of safety.

Pandemonium argues our humanity is deeply linked to our emotions and attachments. When her friends receive the “treatment” separating them from that side of theirselves she considers them dead. Without the ability to love or hate they are no better than zombies in her eyes. The surgery wipes away the spark that defined them, even as they lived in fear of it.

Depression and hopelessness are explored through the passing of time;

the hours here are flat and round, disks of gray layered on top of the other. They smell sour and musky, like the breath of someone who is starving. They move slowly, at a grind, until it seems as though they are not moving at all. They are pressing down, endlessly down.(169)

This quote is deceptively bleak in a story that is filled to the brim with hope. Even when she has every reason to be disillusioned with her cause Lena tries to see from the perspectives of others and keeps her wits about her.

it occurs to me, then, that people themselves are full of tunnels: winding, dark spaces and caverns; impossible to know all the places inside of them. (276)

She understands better than many of her fellow Invalids that people are complex creatures and not easily slotted into categories such as enemy or ally.

As a bookworm I enjoyed the parts about banned books and the power of reading.
On books

some of them are webs; you can feel your way along their threads, but just barely, into strange and dark corners. Some of them are balloons bobbing up through the sky: totally self-contained, and unreachable, but beautiful to watch.
And some of them-the best ones- are doors. (172)

Pandemonium is definitely worth reading, and I can’t wait for book 3!!

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.

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.