The Death Of Us

Alice Kuipers does something very well in The Death of Us that few authors succeed at in my opinion. She gives voice to several characters in first person narratives, and they each have a distinct and believable voice.

I adore Callie’s nerdy musings as she jogs “I feel like Odysseus travelling to exotic lands, and I wonder where the Lotus-Eaters are, or where the Cyclops lives” (29). The way phrases pop into her head, the way she struggles to write down her myriad of ideas, and almost everything about her resonates with me. The way she describes her surroundings and the people is so creative and observant that I want her to be real so we sit and people watch, because I think hearing her describe what’s around us would open my eyes.

cover artIvy isn’t someone I would be friends with but she still feels more real than someone like her usually does in the story. She may be the gorgeous, impulsive, center of attention but she also has a darkness in her, and an insecurity that Kuipers makes convincing. She does what she can to avoid becoming her mother, embracing life to the fullest. The wild streak this brings out in her leads her down her mother’s paths though.

I enjoy that each girl tries to emulate the other. When they get stuck they imagine what their friend would do and act it out. It’s interesting that it works both ways. There’s a strange bond between them, they are so different but fit well together. There’s also a sexual tension that is explored in a subtle way that I think demonstrates the difference between being sexy and being crude in literature for young people.

Kurt is in a unique situation of experiencing two worlds. He knows what it’s like to come from that dark place, like Ivy… but he also knows even more luxury and sophistication than Callie. He struggles with balancing these sides of himself. I think each of the girls represents a side of him, and his attraction to them both represents that inner struggle.

The novel is a tragedy, but despite my sadness at the events that take place in it-I am left feeling inspired. It’s the kind of novel that makes you want to hug someone you were angry at, to really live, to write poetry… I think Kuipers has done a fantastic job at creating realism. You can’t help but care about her characters. You can’t help but hang on her words.

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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

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.

My beating teenage heart

*I received my beating teenage heart by c.k. kelley martin as a submission for the YABA

I think this book was awesome but marketed all wrong. The cover and title give the impression of a love story, or maybe sappy vampire fiction. NOT what this novel is about. Even the quotes on the back are all about Ashlyn, whereas the greater part of the book is about Breckon. I think that guys could enjoy this novel but like so many YA books it’s packaged in a way that only appeals to girls.

This book is not for tweens, or the squeamish. It involves the death of a child, grief, self-mutilation, suicide, drinking, sex, the molestation of a child, and very mature themes. Despite the gritty reality of Breckon’s story it is framed by a fantasy POV- a ghost or angel depending on how you look at it, watching over him as he falls into a self-destructive spiral. This sometimes lightens the mood, and sometimes makes it more eerie. The spirit observing Breckon has her traumas come back to her in waves of repressed memory as she sees his pain.

It’s a very dark novel, but it offers some hope. There are bits of humour, and good friends that make the darkness tolerable. I think this is a book that will be challenged in schools and libraries for being too shocking but I stand by what I said before about the value of books that deal with these issues.

Fury of Karma

* I received Fury by Elizabeth Miles free from Simon & Schuster Canada

For teens:

Fury is a story about a couple of high school students on winter break in the wake of one of their classmates attempting to commit suicide . There are some interesting supernatural elements, but the author uses this to tell her realistic story rather than shaping a story around supernatural creatures. You’ll love it if you’ve ever:

  • had your heart broken by a player
  • struggled to fit in because you couldn’t afford cool clothes
  • been bullied
  • fallen in love with your best friend’s boyfriend
  • felt pressured to be mean to maintain your social status
  • believed in karma
  • or had a love of Greek myth

Em is a very believable character. She makes mistakes and isn’t always a great friend but I liked her because I understood where she was coming from. Miles does a fabulous job of making everyone’s motives very clear, the characters make realistic choices in fantastical situations.

For librarians, teachers & parents:

Fury is a fantastic book to have in your collection because it deals with

  • bullying (both in person and cyberbullying)
  • the dangers of sexting and sharing sexy photos
  • peer pressure
  • poverty and class divide in terms of how it effects a teen’s ability to fit in
  • suicide

The novel explores the consequences of these issues from people on both sides. How does a bully feel when the kid they pick on jumps off a bridge? Without being overly preachy this book emphasizes the concept of what goes around comes around, and encourages teens to think about the huge ramifications a few words they say or a picture they post can have on someone’s life.

The cover is breathtaking (gorgeous woman with fire for hair),  and the mysterious supernatural story will go off your shelf like hot cakes, but because of the issues it deals with it’s also an ideal book for a book club. Lots of discussion to be had!

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.