(This review spoils a significant subplot in the story, so proceed with caution.)
Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You is a beautiful title in search of a novel. Peter Cameron uses it as the jumping off point to tell the coming of age of an eighteen-year old named James Sveck.
The first few pages quickly illustrate James’s contrary and cynical nature, as well as his increasing alienation from his family and his privileged upbringing. He has acted out enough to warrant compulsory meetings with a psychiatrist, whom he stonewalls at every opportunity. He spends the last of his summer vacation before college working part-time at his mom’s art gallery. Slated to go to Brown University, he instead looks obsessively at real estate in the Midwest and plots his escape, all the while disdaining everybody in New York City, except for his grandmother and one of his mother’s employees.
I have a very contentious relationship with stories about the children of privileged New York families acting like utter snots. I like them in their trashiest incarnations, as illustrated by the distressing number of aggregate hours I’ve spent watching Gossip Girl. I know more gossipy information about Anderson Cooper (who is not a snot) and his Vanderbilt relatives (who were) than is frankly healthy. On a less morally dubious note, I also love Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums.
Despite all that, however, I have found that the novels I’ve read so far that feature sophisticated yet brittle families leave me cold. Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby, The Nanny Diaries. I don’t find the muted oppressiveness compelling, and neither do I muster much sympathy for the often unlikeable audience surrogate railing against the machine. I like drama that surround fictional royalty with much stricter sense of decorum and repression, but I don’t know, it just doesn’t tickle me in this particular setting. Continue reading
I first fell in love with Frances Hardinge’s Fly By Night more than five years ago, a pleasurable read enhanced by the fact that the good friend who recommended it to me knew my reading tastes so well. I’m not as well-versed in Young Adult fiction as I should probably be, but I connected with the airiness of Hardinge’s prose, which painted a vibrant world teeming with humor and verve.
It’s through this lens of great expectation that I viewed Verdigris Deep, her sophomore novel. A young adult urban fantasy set in contemporary London, it trades the sense of wonderment for something more brooding and unsettling, a stylistic choice that made me more disappointed than I probably would have had I picked up the book cold. Continue reading
(This post talks about the books that make up THG which means that there will be significant spoilers for all three of them. I couldn’t come up with a coherent review for individual books without having to refer to the others, so we have this.)
By this time, writing about The Hunger Games Trilogy (The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay) by Suzanne Collins means contending not only with the three books that make up the trilogy, but also the multi-tentacled industry that has emerged from it. It is also no hyperbole to say that the books have had a transformative effect within its genre. Since the publication of the first book in 2008 “young women in dystopias” became a dominant form, with a phalanx of similarly pitched YA series coming at its heels.
The Hunger Games is part of a rarefied group of fictional works that have achieved peak cultural penetration, complete with Hollywood movies, fashion lines, and theme parks. People who don’t care about books have heard of it. Even my mom has read the books.
(Though she has also read all The Lord of the Rings novels plus The Hobbit, and is in the middle of the second book in A Song of Ice and Fire, so it might just mean that I have a lot less geek cred than my mother.) Continue reading
It’s a little weird, writing this post months after having read the book and having given my copy away, but my personal need to chronicle my reading life is compelling me, so here we go.
Naermyth by Karen Francisco is a take on post-apocalyptic YA that combines the tropes of the genre with uniquely Filipino references. In this world, the creatures of mythology suddenly emerge and lay waste to most of civilization. In the Philippines, these are the creatures parents used to invoke to strike fear into children’s hearts, such as the aswang, sigben, and the manananggal. Only pockets of surviving and resisting bands of humanity continue to exist, including a fort in Manila that is protected by the so-called Shepherds.
The Shepherds venture to the aswang-infested territories of Manila to find surviving humans and lead them to relative safety. One of the most efficient and competent aswang-killers among this ragtag group is a girl that answers to the name Aegis. One day, she finds an unconscious man who is about to be attacked by aswangs and saves him, only to find out that this man has absolutely no recollection that the end of the civilization has occurred.
So far so good, right? I was initially interested in reading this book because of the premise. A sustained novel of this genre from a Filipino author has been a long time coming. I was ready to experience some intricate worldbuilding, a spunky heroine, and copious amount of Filipino mythology thrown in. All requisite boxes are checked. However, I found no pleasure in reading it because the first person point of view, the dialogue, and the plot twists struck me as utterly unconvincing.
Diana Wynne Jones recasts Shakespeare’s warring families of Verona into two magical houses in the charming book The Magicians of Caprona. Instead of the Montagues and Capulets, however, we have Casa Montana and Casa Petrocchi, rival families as old as the city-state of Caprona. Their rivalry often causes the citizens to run away and take cover because their confrontations inevitably lead to spells flying all over the place, littering the streets with cowpats and the like.
The story is told through the eyes of brothers Paolo and Tonino Montana. They grew up hating the Petrocchis like true Montanas, and they strive to be as good magicians as the older members of their family. When a series of bad things begin to happen around the city, the Montanas naturally suspect their old rivals. But when the magical disturbances start becoming more sinister, causing even the Chrestomanci to take notice, Tonino and Paolo begin to suspect a force much stronger than petty rivalry.
Day 13 – Favorite childhood book OR current favorite YA book (or both!)
Roald Dahl’s Matilda
I should by myself a copy of this book now that I’m older. I first read this in the school library, and essentially became entranced by the way Roald Dahl’s paints a vivid picture of childhood. There’s a mixture of baldfaced credibility in the stories, despite being totally implausible.
As someone who constantly escape into books, I really love the way Matilda’s inner life was depicted, how she sought refuge in books because of an unhappy family life. I also loved how Dahl didn’t shy away from showing the awful things that kids usually experience at a young age, like the fear of bullying and the general certainty that the rest of the world is constantly hiding things from you because of your age.
That does it, I’m buying myself a special edition of Roald Dahl books soonish.
Day 02 – A book or series you wish more people were reading and talking about
Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes
This is such a pretty cover, I wish my copy has this. Anyway, the short lifespan of his blog has already demonstrated my affection towards Ray Bradbury and his works, and I’m going to do more of the same today. Something Wicked is part scary story, part coming-of-age tale about two boys on the cusp of adulthood who find themselves confronting the burden of growing up and shedding the innocence that they’ve always enjoyed. It also features the scariest way to utilize a carousel ride ever. EVER. I stake my reputation on that.
I feel like Ray Bradbury’s works, with the exception of Fahrenheit 451, have been largely overlooked, mostly because he opts to write using old fashioned, nostalgic language. His subject matter is also significantly less “edgy” than SFF authors like Robert A. Heinlein and Philip K. Dick. Still, if you want a good horror book, or a poignant tale of childhood and what we leave behind, I totally recommend this.