Sisterhood Neverlasting

I like YA books. They’re usually quicker reads and more plentiful and less depressing than adult versions of the same thing. So it’s probably no surprise that I read the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series by Ann Brashares. Actually, I loved it.

So when the last book in the series, Sisterhood Everlasting, was released, I was super duper extra luper excited.

That was a mistake.

First, we find out that all the main female characters, Bee, Tibby, Carmen and Lena are pretty much losers. They used to be goal-oriented, reach for the stars girls. They attended private, expensive, limited admission schools. They had impressive internships. You’d be proud to have one of them as your daughter. That’s all you really need to know about the previous three books, because, well, because they’re not really the same characters any longer.

[If you have any desire to read this book (you shouldn't, but I can't mind control you yet), stop reading now. Spoilers ahead.]

Bee graduated from an Ivy league and was an excellent soccer player, but now she lives with her boyfriend and mooches off of him while she stays home and bakes cookies.

Lena wanted to be an artist and after graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design and having some success in gallery showings, she’s…destitute and teaching part-time. (OK, this one is kind of accurate for an artist.)

Carmen wanted to be an actress and—wait for it–IS. She went to Williams and starred in lots of plays. Now she’s successful and on Law and Order but it’s not called that for whatever reason. She’s on Fake Law and Order.

And she’s engaged to some random rich network TV dude! Which is a step up because in all three of the previous books, they never really talk about Carmen with much in the way of romantic prospects. My theory on that is it’s because she’s a little bit round and also half Puerto Rican. You know how men don’t find Hispanic women attractive ever, right?

Oh, but even though Carmen is successful, she’s miserable. Her fiance is a douchebag, her job is really boring, and she’s basically lost her soul and only thinks about her career. How awful!

Oh, and Tibby? She wanted to be a filmmaker.

Now she’s dead.

But that’s OK! Because before she died, Tibby got married! And had a baby! And…what? Do you want more from her? She succeeded as a human being, clearly. She was the best off of the four! Sure, she didn’t have a job and she died mysteriously, possibly from a suicide, but listen. SHE HAD A BABY. And she married a rich man! That’s all it takes for a woman to be happy, right?

That’s clearly the thesis of the novel, because this is what happens to Bridget, Carmen and Lena by the end of the book:

No, seriously, that’s the end of the book. Bridget is pregnant and engaged to a (rich) lawyer. Carmen has lost a good job but met a man with babies (He speaks Spanish and so does she so it was clearly meant to be! That’s seriously all they have in common.) on a train and is in love. Lena gets engaged to a (rich) businessman and paints in a hobby sort of way.

What more can a woman want? Oh, and they have their BEST FRIENDS! Womenfolk to surround them and help raise their babies! Awww!

Now, you, dear reader, can go out and ditch your career and your aspirations and find yourself a rich businessman/lawyer or, if you’re not white, anyone who speaks your language. You’ll be happy you did, ladies!

Thanks Ms. Brashares, for the insights, and for obliterating the message of your previous three sort-of-feminist books.

Jonathan Franzen Should Be Paying Me To Write This Post

Because I am saving him TIME! So much time! I have written ALL of his books, past and future, right here in this post.

First, meet an average Midwestern* family:

*approximation of Midwesterners, as Franzen has never experienced any firsthand

Make sure all of the women are extremely boring, and there’s a talented but misguided youth in there somewhere.

Throw in a conniving and shady neighbor that will take advantage of the unsuspecting Midwestern family, because gosh darnit, Midwesterners are so gosh darn gullible. Aw shucks.

Now make sure you’re thoroughly annoyed by all of the characters and/or they’re despicable. Maybe the son could accidentally-on-purpose kill some US soldiers or sleep with an underage student or…both. Do both!

Oh, and make the mom a little bit crazy-slutty, cuz womens are sluts!

Have an old person die, and then somehow, the book ends with everyone happy:

Now pay/drug/pressure critics to tell you how great it is (all the while writing things like how your book is “insufferably dull.”)

You’re welcome, Franzen.

Where She Went by Gayle Forman

Where She Went by Gayle Forman

It’s been three years since Mia was in the car accident that killed her entire family, and almost took her life. Three years ago, her boyfriend Adam promised he’d do anything for Mia, even if that meant leaving her alone, if she would stay, and live.

She disappeared from Adam’s life, and now Adam and Mia have one evening together to find out what happened. He has one evening to figure out where she went, and why she never even said goodbye.

I debated not reviewing this book. I only review books that I really, really enjoyed. And here is the problem with this book: it is a sequel. It is a good book, but the first book, If I Stay, was just…just…perfect. It is WHY the YA genre exists and flourishes, because of writers like Forman.

And Where She Went is still a good book. But it’s a sequel, and I never like a sequel as much as an original. Not even The Godfather, Part II. Not even The Empire Strikes Back (my husband and friend Susan are gasping and speed-dialing me right now to tell me I am WRONG WRONG WRONG), but there you have it. I never like the sequel as much. It pales in comparison to the original. Where She Went has the same problem.

It’s also told not from Mia’s perspective, but Adam’s. And Adam is not as complex as Mia. Adam is a rock star. I don’t identify with rock stars. Sorry, I don’t. I don’t know any personally. I know artists and musicians and hippies and Republicans and evangelists and I even know a little bit about the homeless guy who sits outside our grocery store, but rock stars? No. I don’t know anything about them. It’s a bit of an unattainable point of view, in my opinion. Also: ugh. Rock stars, right? Who cares? Not me.

This is where you, the reader of this review, now asks WHY AM I REVIEWING THIS BOOK, if I didn’t like it? But I did! I liked finding out about how Mia handled the catastrophic loss of her family. I liked hearing about the little parts of New York Mia fell in love with while she was at Julliard. I liked hearing about how Mia related (or didn’t relate) to other people after the accident. I liked hearing about how she totally crushed Adam’s heart, rightfully so, I would say.

And the writing is still Forman’s. She’s incredibly talented. And if you like sequels or love stories or If I Stay (so ninety eight percent of the American population), you will like this book. You will. So that’s why I’m writing the review. For people who don’t mind the rock star narration as much as me, and for people who don’t have a thing against sequels.

And now for something completely different

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I am breathing deeply over here on my side of the computer, because what I am about to post is scary. Like, ’80s hair and Mom Jeans scary. You see, I am about to post some fiction here. Some of my nonfiction has been published, and hell-o, I was a book reviewer, so I don’t have a problem with those types of writing, but fiction? Writing fiction is scary. But you know what’s even scarier? POSTING said fiction. Which I am going to shut up and just do now before I lose my nerve.
So, here goes, part 1 in a continuing series:

      My parents are standing on the sidewalk of the driveway crying. Dad is one of those sensitive souls that makes homemade oat bread and grows kale in our carefully monitored container garden, complete with hand-selected worm castings and our own compost, so I get why he’s crying. He’s the type of person to get in touch with his feelings. It’s what he does.
But Mom shouldn’t be crying. She’s a soulless automaton when it comes to everything. For instance, one time last summer I came into the house sobbing and hysterical, yelling, “Mom, I’m bleeding! Take me to the emergency room!”  
“It will be fine,” she said without even looking down at the lake of blood pooling in my hand. I was sobbing, but she said, “Reedy, really, you’ll be fine.”
And I was. I was fine. She was right. Needless sobbing! I didn’t really need to go to the ER, and the bleeding stopped eventually. The pain took more time to subside, but is it my fault paper cuts hurt so much?
I know it sounds harsh, saying she’s a soulless automaton, but I say it in a very loving way, as much as robots can be loving. Our arms are very stiff; it makes hugging difficult. After all, I’m one too now. She’s made me the same way, and it helps, especially in middle school. If there’s a time it comes in handy to be soulless, it’s in middle school.
That would help right now, too, because I don’t want to be weepy. But this robot is about to cry, rust all over and shut down for good.
The only thing that could make us collectively lose it like this is my brother Karl, named after Karl Marx when my mom was going through a bit of a socialist phase. He’s going to college today. There are blue milk crates stacked up with lamps and clocks and toiletries and Star Wars DVD box sets crammed into the back of the green Suzuki Sidekick.
Karl is standing next to my parents, patting my dad’s back and comforting him. But I can see the annoyance in his face. Karl’s big brown eyebrows are knit together in a way that conveys that he feels no real remorse for abandoning us and he just wants my parents to stop already so he can drive away and move into his dorm. This is all an act to get away as fast as he can.
I would say Karl is a bit soulless, too, but I can’t quite blame him for his lack of tears. He’s not travelling halfway across the country. We don’t have to take him to an airport. His zip code is barely changing. He’s going to be a freshman at the University of Washington, which is 1.3 miles away from our house.
I can bike there in ten minutes. Our next door neighbors are professors there, and on rare sunny Seattle days, they walk to work and wave to us as they pass our house in their uniforms of middle age–Rockport shoes, khaki pants, blazers and travelling coffee mugs. 
That doesn’t mean I won’t miss Karl. He always let me win at HORSE even though I’m so uncoordinated that my PE file from Country Day says “afraid of balls,” and “can’t walk a straight line.” And he even gave me a gift for my new fancy private high school tomorrow: an ascot and a smoking jacket so I fit in with the rich kids. He’s a good big brother.
Plus, Karl also drove me around everywhere all summer to the movies and the beach, and picked me up late at night. Sure, it was because Mom and Dad made him, but he never once shirked the responsibility and abandoned his fourteen-year-old sister. But with him gone, I’m going to have to take public transportation, and do awful things like walk, and have a curfew, since the bus to Roosevelt where Stella lives stops running at 10PM. I’m not sure I’m up for this new life.
When he was packing up his last little bits of clothing, cramming them into the back of the Sidekick, I started sobbing. My mom said in her best non-robot voice, “Oh sweetie, it’s alright,” and started stroking my hair as tears dribbled down her cheeks.
I shook my head and said, “Things will just not be the same without you. I will hardly be able to function with you gone.” Then I really turned on the waterworks and I said, “HOW will I do anything *sob* ever *sobbity sob sob* again? *great huge sobbing sob,*” and I gave the Sidekick a really big hug and cried some more.
Then my mom hit me on the arm and said, “You’re really a jerk sometimes, Reedy, you know that?” But she was smiling, so maybe we’re not robots after all.

Review: The Plain Janes

The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci

The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg (blog)

Rating: 5 out of 5
Audience: General, YA, graphic novel

Sometimes I read about a book on a blog, put it in my library queue, and promptly forget everything about it. Sometimes this is a bad thing (i.e. Half Baked, where I find out it’s about infertility and newborns in the ICU and get really, really depressed halfway through without this warning), and sometimes, it is a really great thing. That’s the case with The Plain Janes.

First off, I didn’t even know until I picked it up from the library that Janes is a graphic novel. It’s about a city girl, Jane, who’s the victim of a bomb attack. Her mother, paranoid about the dangers of the world, moves the family halfway across the country to a suburban utopia. The problem is, of course, that Jane loved the city and misses it, and hates everything about her new home.

Until she meets the rest of the Janes. All of the other Janes, not unlike the Spice Girls (except the Janes are Sporty, Drama, and Brainy, without a Posh in sight), form a band with Jane and start putting up anonymous, large guerilla “art attacks” across their town.

There’s more, of course. There are not one, but two mysterious boys that Jane may or may not be in love with. There are the popular girls who may or may not be reformed by the Janes. There are irrational parents, worried about the “art attacks.” And there are the Janes, totally transformed by the act of creating art.

I shouldn’t have told you so much about the book, because really, it’s a wonderful surprise to read it.

Audiobook Review: The Lightning Thief

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (blog, twitter)

Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Audience: Emergent YA (12-14)

Dyslexic, difficult, ADHD kid Percy Jackson has been kicked out of every school he’s ever attended. Every year, his mother sends him off to a new school, but it isn’t until sixth grade that he’s sent to summer camp after yet again getting kicked out.

He goes to Camp Halfblood after a series of mysterious incidents, including the disappearance of his mother, and one of his teachers turning into a monster and trying to kill him in the middle of a museum. After that, things get even stranger. He finds out that he’s not a normal kid, but a Grecian demigod, and Camp Halfblood is a safe haven for demigod children, in a world where monsters are always on the lookout for heroes to destroy. All of his “disabilities,” like the dyslexia, are really just signs of his special talents.

I love how there’s an explanation for ADHD in so many children. I love that it’s something that makes kids feel better and not worse. And I have to say, the plotline of this book is incredible. It’s so incredible that I wonder why it took me so long to pick up the first in the series of Percy Jackson books. It’s a very action-heavy book, which isn’t usually my thing (see also: Quidditch tournaments, endless telling of). But the story of this book is so interesting and I learned so much about mythology that I couldn’t stop listening to this novel.

That said, I think I would have liked this book a whole lot more if I didn’t feel like it was copying Harry Potter so much of the time. There is an adolescent boy that has mysterious and unknown powers. There is a safe haven for children like him. There are two sidekicks, one male and one female, that accompany him on his adventure, and one wise adviser to guide him on his way. Ugh! I wanted to shake Rick Riordan’s shoulders and tell him that his concept was great, and I wished he didn’t feel so dependent on many of the facets of Harry Potter. It was annoying.

All of that said, this is a good book. I liked the audiobook edition, but I think if you’re like me and don’t know much about Greek mythology, the print edition (and some avid Googling) would be a better fit. Still, now that I finished the book, I want to know what happens in book 2 of this series. I think I’ll pick up the paperback from the library, and I definitely want to see the movie.

Percy Jackson has me hooked. I can’t wait to see what he’s up to next.

Review: The Last Little Blue Envelope

The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson

The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson. (blog, twitter)

Rating: 5 out of 5
Audience: YA, general fiction
Publication date: 4/26/2011

There is one word for this book: lovely. No, wait: charming. Chovely? Larming? Yes, all of those. This book is both extremely chovely and larming, and I recommend you read it immediately.

In the first book in this series, 13 Little Blue Envelopes, Ginny Blackstone is given 13 envelopes by her aunt, who is, um, dead. From beyond the grave, her aunt instructs Ginny to travel around Europe having various adventures, meeting a cute if slightly-crazed actor named Keith, and finally arriving back in England to discover her aunt has left her oodles of money and an uncle she didn’t know about.

And 13 Little Blue Envelopes is great. Out of the entire Maureen Johnson oeuvre, I would definitely place that as her best (and I’m not just saying that because I like to sound fancy by using the word “oeuvre”) (Indian people should not be allowed to speak French words, as witnessed by my dad attempting to say ”rouge” by pronouncing all of the vowels, even those not in “rouge”).

That is, until, The Last Little Blue Envelope. This book is better than the first. Really! I know that’s hard to believe, since most sequels are terrible harbingers upon our lives, aka the Jar-Jar Binks effect. But The Last Little Blue Envelope has no Jar-Jar Binks. Even better, there’s a cute boy with some serious Darcy-ism going on (swoon!), more adventuring across Europe, and, um, another blue envelope.

You see, in 13, Ginny never gets the last envelope. It’s stolen in her backpack before she can open it and read it, and since they were written by her dead aunt, there’s no way to get it back or know what it says. Until now.

Because a few days before her college essay is due and a full six months after her first European adventure, she gets an email from someone named Oliver who has found her letter. And he wants to give it to her. She flies across an ocean (she’s from New Jersey) and meets him in a cafe in England, and it looks like we’ll get to know the contents of the letter pretty immediately.

Except.

Oliver doesn’t want to give her the letter. He knows Ginny’s aunt left her oodles of money. And he knows this letter contains something else that will get her more money. And so he ransoms it and forces her to travel with him to Paris. Oh, and her “kind of something” cute actor boy from 13 joins along (!!!).

The rest of the book unfurls across Europe, and with Keith and Oliver at each other’s necks, Ginny awkwardly in the middle. And remember, it’s all larming and chovely, positively so. The nicest part is that you don’t even have to have read the first book for this one to be great. So.

If all of this is not enough to convince you, may I direct you to Johnson’s blog series in which she recaps The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown. I read those posts aloud to Gregg and he had to tell me to stop because his side hurt from laughing so hard. Maureen Johnson is good, people. Very good.

Disclosure: Digital review copy provided courtesy of the publisher.