Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Ender, Abandon, Bannister, Stalker

Book reviews, for your consideration.

Abandon, by Meg Cabot. Oh man I hated this book. I only picked it up (well, downloaded it - audiobook) because when I was a little girl, my favorite character in Greek mythology was Persephone. I thought it would be fun to read a re-imagining of the old classic story.

NOT SO. Let me enumerate the ways I hated this book. There may be spoilers ahead, but it doesn't matter because YOU SHOULD NOT READ THIS BOOK.

1. All the present-tense narration happens over the span of about 36 hours. The rest of the book is chopped-up flashbacks sprinkled liberally and erratically throughout the story. It was confusing, jarring, and completely unnecessary.

2. The hero's name is John. JOHN.

3. The hero and heroine spend a combined total of about one hour in each other's company, and that's including the flashbacks. So remind me again why I'm supposed to be moved when they confess their love for each other?

4. This book loved the words "cemetery sexton" WAAAAAYYYYY too much. There is a cemetery sexton in the book, but there was no reason for the author to refer to him as "cemetery sexton Richard Smith" every. single. time. he came up in the story, sometimes multiple times within a paragraph. COME ON.

4a. In the same category as above: "death deity." Way overused.

5. Also, the audiobook reader mispronounced "bougainvillea." I realize that this is not the fault of the author, but still. (PS, I'm not trying to say no one should ever mispronounce a word, but when you're a professional audiobook reader, it shouldn't happen.)

6. The story had so, so very little to do with the myth of Persephone. It was disappointing. Is it too late for Shannon Hale to try her hand at Greek mythology?

7. I hated all the characters in this book. I hated the hero because he was uncommunicative and wore steel-toed black combat boots. I hated the heroine because she was condescending and inconsistent. I even hated the peripheral characters because we were forced to listen to descriptions about their chest size, or the whiteness of their teeth, or their television-watching habits, and then they never showed up in the story again, at least not in a meaningful way. I wasted brain cells holding on to those details, and I will never get them back (the brain cells).

8. More than any other part of a trilogy I have EVER read, this book does not stand on its own. It has nothing even approximating a complete story arc contained as a whole within its pages.

In conclusion, this book tried to be too much all at once and yet, there wasn't enough going on to form a compelling, coherent whole. I compare this to Hush, Hush, which belongs to the same genre but pulled it off in marvelous fashion. Hush wasn't afraid to be a caricature of itself and as a result, I liked it. Abandon takes itself way too seriously.

I hated Abandon. Or did I already mention that? And now I'm stuck with a book called "Abandon" with a ridiculous cover in my 2011 Books Read list AND IT WASN'T EVEN WORTH IT.

On the other end of the spectrum is The Perfect Mile, by Neal Bascomb. Oh my holy fudge, I LOVED this book. I savored every page and looked forward to reading it at every opportunity. At the same time, this wasn't one of those books where I could toss off a few pages while cooking dinner. I had to make sure I could really give myself to the reading of it, so I often had to wait until all other obligations were taken care of (see also: why it took me more than two weeks to get through it).

That said, there is a litmus test for predicting one's potential interest in The Perfect Mile, and it is this: take a look at the front cover. If you know who that is, and what he's doing, then I think you're going to love this book.

Even if you don't know just from looking at the picture, if you've ever run competitively, or taken any interest in track, or if you have a good sense of running times vs. distances (in meters and yards/miles), or really, if you think you could enjoy the suspense of lots of footrace descriptions, The Perfect Mile is going to be a fun book for you to read. Hint: don't look at the pictures inside the book until you've finished. They contain spoilers. Also, footage of a few of the major races is available on YouTube, so look those up once you've finished reading about them.

Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card. BRILLIANT. I loved it. I went into it knowing nothing about this book except that everyone but me has read it, and that it is widely acclaimed. Even with elevated expectations, Ender's Game still inspired shock and awe in me.

I have to say, I was amazed, seriously amazed at what Card was able to predict about the future. Take a look at the communication systems in this book - it's all iPads, message boards, texting, and email, though not called by the same names. People, this book was written in 1985. It's not just that Card figured that something approximating a trim, stylish personal computer (to take the iPad as an example) would exist in the future - anyone could have guessed that. The genius is that he was right on when it comes to how people would actually use such a device. I've gotten so used to reading Card's interesting but ordinary Uncle Orson Reviews Everything columns that I forgot that he's not just insightful, he is DANG BRILLIANT. Well done, sir.

The Horse and His Boy, by C.S. Lewis. The march with Miriam through the Narnia books continues. Talking horses was all it took to endear this book to Miriam forever. I felt the same way as a kid - it was one of my favorites.

Stolen, by Lucy Christopher. To say that I was disturbed by this book would be a great understatement. I (almost) have no words. To review it, I have to disclose some details about the plot, but there will be no spoilers.

The premise is that Ty kidnaps Gemma from the Bangkok airport and hides her in the vast Australian desert. From there, I knew there were a number of ways the book could go. It could be about Gemma's captivity. It could be about her possible escape/rescue. It could be about Ty and his motivations, like a crime thriller. Or, it could be the type of book where - brace yourself - Gemma maybe kind of starts to fall in love with Ty, and - brace yourself some more - you maybe kind of want her to. I KNOW. It's called Stockholm Syndrome, and I'm experiencing it with a book.

You see, I read the first part of the book in one long sitting and was really repulsed by it. I couldn't believe I was expected to take it seriously. It wasn't until the next day that I read more of the book and the strangest thing had happened: in the away time, in the time I had to think, and forget some of the disturbing things about Ty, I had started to root for him a little more, even as I recognized what a terrible thing that was. Or was it so terrible? During the reading of the book, sometimes I didn't know. Stockholm Syndrome does that to you.

Now that I'm done reading it and can think clearly, I have an opinion on what happened and I'm pretty sure my opinion is very defensible from a normal mental health standpoint. But that's only now that I'm removed from that world. (And I'm not going to tell you that opinion because it would be a spoiler.)

If this sounds more like a 5-star review, that's because this is almost a 5-star book. I docked points because there were a few parts that were just too strange and jolted me out of my state of suspended reality (namely, Ty's age - would it have killed the author to make him four or five years younger? - and some scenes involving paint). (Also this line: "It was then that I let go of my pee.")

I think Stolen comes at an especially interesting time, amid all the talk about creepy stalker-y boys being written as perfectly appropriate romantic heroes in a lot of YA lit these days. Stolen kicks the creepiness up a notch...but also not really. There was very little to distinguish Ty from some other recent YA heroes. It just makes you think.

Also, this is another entry in my "Australians are DANG WEIRD" collection of books, joining such gems as On the Jellicoe Road and Tomorrow, When the War Began (though admittedly, I liked Stolen better than those). And you should be aware that Australians very occasionally use the f-bomb and I guess it's not considered swearing.


Jeremy Palmer said...

Awesome post. Now back to grading...

Bridget said...

...and when you're done, you need to read The Perfect Mile so I can talk about it with you. I'm surprised you didn't mention how annoyed you got sitting next to me while I was reading that book, because I kept saying how suspenseful it was.

Kathy Haynie said...

When I read the title of the post, I thought it was going to be another of your commentaries on unusual baby names. (True fact: I have a darling chubby grandson named Ender. His parents have both loved the book since high school.) So then I was feeling really sorry for the kid named Stalker. (Was "Stalker" truly in your post title? Aggh--can't double check In the middle of writing my comment-- reading your post at 4:00 am in bed on my iPod touch and the screen limits me to only the comment or only the post. Shades of Ender, no?) I'm not sure whether I love Ender's Game or Ender's Shadow more. Some of the books that follow Ender's Game are way too predictable and I stopped reading them, but Bean's story turns the original story on it's head in some interesting ways.

Bridget said...

Kathy, you're not going crazy, Stalker is in the title. It refers to Stolen. When I name these book posts I just go with whatever one-word description comes to mind.

One thing I really appreciated about Ender's Game was that it was self-contained. I don't feel like I NEED to read every other book in the series, but I look forward to doing it at some point. That is a welcome change from YA trilogies these days.

Matthew said...

Yes, Card is awesome. Reading the above I thought you might enjoy this gem:

Jill said...

I loved Ender's game too. Thanks for the heads up-I was Persephone in a sixth grade play and that might have attracted me

Lisa Lou said...

I actually got Ender's Game from the library last week. My husband keeps saying how surprised he is that I've never read it, so I finally got it. Now I'm even MORE excited to start it!

Lisa Lou said...

...right after I finish Mockingjay. Did you read that one? I'm finding it a little hard to get through...

Bridget said...

Lisa Lou, here's a review of Mockingjay. I liked it a lot when read for the first time with the series as a whole. The second time, by itself, not as much.

Susanne said...

So what would be an appropriate hero's name? That reason made me laugh! I think John is better than some of the names out there, but,yeah, it could have been a hero with a more dashing name.


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