Thursday, January 31, 2013

Book review: "Going Vintage" by Lindsey Leavitt

Title: Going Vintage
Author: Lindsey Leavitt
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books, will be out March 26, 2013

When Mallory finds out her boyfriend Jeremy has an online girlfriend, named BubbleYum no less, she is humiliated, shocked, and hurt. When the situation starts to snowball out of control and she is a target of abuse  on Friendspace (the fictional equivalent of Facebook), Mallory decides to completely swear off technology, especially after finding a list her grandmother wrote in 1962 at the beginning of her own junior year of high school: become the secretary of the pep club (for Mallory this means starting one first), sew a homecoming dress (after learning to sew), find a steady (not necessarily for herself—swearing off boys), host a soiree, and do something dangerous. But accomplishing everything on the list, along with her other responsibilities, without any technology that was available in 1962 is no easy task as it turns out. She enlists help from her sister, and accidentally gets the help of Jeremy's hipster cousin, but it's her connection with her grandmother that proves to be the most difficult to make.

This is a fun, upbeat addition to teen literature. Mallory is a very likable person, and very funny, even if she is sometimes squashed by others (i.e. Jeremy). I was amazed at how well she handled the whole Friendspace fiasco, especially after she started receiving threatening text messages from strangers who apparently are all Team Jeremy. She never lets anything bother her to the point of despair, bouncing back from everything that is thrown from her. I loved her determination to stick to the rules she gives herself, with of course the help from her sister Ginnie. She really tries to get into the period, which by the way readers will also start to get a feel for from all the information Leavitt gives us through the story.

There are so many subplots to the story, mostly dealing with Mallory's relationships with others (her mother, sister, grandmother, dad, and Oliver, who happens to be Jeremy's cousin), and yet it all flowed together so smoothly. I rooted for her every step of the way. Her "going vintage" is a journey of self-discovery, making her realize her own self-worth yet also seeing that she is not always the reason for another person's actions or emotions. She can be so very clueless, but it's part of what I liked about her. (Cluelessness also seems to run in the family, as her parents were pretty good at that too.)

If you're looking for a pick-me-up, look no further than Going Vintage by Lindsey Leavitt. Light and fun with some depth and great characters, it's got everything going for it.

Disclosure: I received an e-galley of this book for review via NetGalley.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Audiobook review: "See You At Harry's" by Jo Knowles

Title: See You At Harry's
Author: Jo Knowles
Publisher: Candlewick on Brilliance Audio, 2012 (print available from Candlewick)
Narrator: Kate Rudd

Twelve-year-old Fern feels invisible most of the time. Her parents run a restaurant, her older sister Sarah is taking a gap year before going to college, and her older brother Holden is absorbed in his own problems as a freshman who is figuring out his own life. Three-year-old Charlie, the baby of the family, is the only one who seems to notice Fern, though it's not always a welcome attention. In fact, Fern is usually the one who ends up watching Charlie when her parents and siblings are too busy to take notice, to her great annoyance.

But soon a terrible tragedy turns everything upside down, and Fern has no idea what to do or how to deal with it all. Guilt, mixed in with denial and intense grief, invade her life and her family's. Together, they must find a way to heal in a world that will never be the same for them.

This is an excellent audiobook, and an excellent story. Jo Knowles based a lot of it on her personal experience of growing up in a family-run restaurant, and also having an older brother who is gay. It all feels very genuine, especially when tragedy strikes and the family is thrown into the depths of grief and sorrow. It feels very personal and intimate, and tells the heart-wrenching and ultimately hopeful journey through all that, plus all the other crap that can happen in middle and high school. Fern and Holden have to deal with some incredibly nasty bullies, both peers and adults.

I listened to the audio, and Kate Rudd does an excellent job in her narration. She IS Fern. Her acting skills are never too much, yet we hear all of the emotions, the tiny catches of breath and yells, everything. I didn't want to shut my car off after reaching each destination because I wanted to hear what happened next. Another cool thing the producers did was layer Rudd's voice on words and phrases that people speak together, which is something I've never heard before.

There are so many pieces to this story, and I'm amazed at how well Knowles is able to give us all the information we need, show the subtleties in each character, craft the developing relationships, show us how Fern is growing up, illustrate how not one of these people is anywhere near perfect yet leading us to care for them, and to do it all with such beauty. I'm hoping this will win at least a Newbury honor. This is my first book I've read by Knowles, but it won't be my last.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this audiobook from the publisher. This in no way influenced my reaction to the book or my review.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Book Review: "Splintered" by A.G. Howard

Title: Splintered
Author: A.G. Howard
Publisher: Amulet Books, 2013

Alyssa Gardner is descended from a long line of madness, beginning with her great-great-great grandmother, Alice Liddell. Her grandmother Alicia drew Wonderland characters all over her walls when she was a teen and believed she could fly, jumping to her death shortly after giving birth to Alyssa's mother, Alison. Alison, residing in a psych ward, talks to flowers and bugs, and refuses to eat anything unless it's served in a teacup. Alyssa knows it's only a matter of time before she ends up in a straitjacket herself. After all, she too can hear the flowers and the insects...

But all this madness turns out to be for a reason. Alice, it turns out, really did fall down the rabbit hole, but the events of the story are a bit different than Lewis Carroll's version. When Alyssa discovers she might be able to fix her family and its curse, she is thrown into Wonderland along with her best friend Jeb and discovers allies in the netherworld, chiefly Morpheus, surprisingly sexy and seductive Caterpillar of Wonderland fame. Soon Alyssa discovers she can't be sure who she trusts; will she be able to save her mother and herself before it's too late, or will she be trapped in Wonderland forever?

This is a wonderfully grotesque and twisted view of Wonderland, and I give A.G. Howard serious credit for her world building. Wonderland is full of deformed creatures, often a mishmash of animals and mythical beings that resemble something you'd find in a nightmare. It's chaotic and morbid, mad and strange, and it was everything (and more) I really wanted Tim Burton's Wonderland to be in his disappointing film.

I did have problems with some aspects, however. The story was choppy in the beginning, with things happening very quickly; it was all a little too rapid to be quite believable to me. And at first I thought Jeb's inclusion in the adventure was purely so Alyssa could be in the center a love triangle with him and Morpheus. Luckily, it smoothed out a bit toward the middle. There are some surprising and fantastic twists that I didn't see coming, which more than redeemed the beginning bits for me.

I actually found myself enjoying the love triangle, something that usually bugs me. (The passion got a bit heavy-handed and cloying for my tastes, but I'm certain I'm going to be in the minority when it comes to that.) It was clear that each man represented a different part of Alyssa's self; light and dark, order and chaos. I found myself unsure of who to "root" for, so to speak, both of them are so much a part of who Alyssa is and could be. And that was really at the center of this novel: Alyssa's discovery of her self, and choosing which path to take.

If you're a fan of the original, this is worth the read, especially if you're into a darker and more twisted telling. Some surprising and welcome twists make this truly an original re-imagining of a classic tale.

Disclosure: I received an e-galley from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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