My Passion's Pen

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Archive for the tag “YA”

Review: The Night Circus

The Night Circus
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a terrific debut novel that shows the author has oodles of talent. I look forward to what else Erin Morgenstern comes up with.

I checked out the audiobook from the library and was immediately drawn in. The dramatic reading was so rich, I was lost in the narrator’s voice. Once the book was over, I felt as if I had missed something so I went and got a print copy to re-read some parts.

After digesting all that I heard (and read) and speaking with some others who had the same feelings, I have to change my initial rating from four stars to three because I’m left, even after re-reading, wanting more, but not in an “Oh, this is so amazing!” way. It’s a “That’s it?” feeling. The book is amazing, don’t get me wrong. The world of the circus is brilliant in its descriptions. I truly felt transported most of the time.

Bailey and the twins, Poppet and Widget, were some of my favorite moments, but then the book kind of ends without knowing how they all make out.

As the story progressed, I didn’t really care much about Ceclia and Marco, although the story of the challenge and their mentors is interesting, the draw is the circus and its acts. That appeal (in the world of the book and to me as a reader) is thanks in large part to Herr Theissen and the Reveurs (who deserved larger roles).

It’s a circus, so the cast is going to be huge. But the circus is the star. It is a living entity, sustained by its players and patrons–those who love it. The multiple story arcs all come together well, but I’m left knowing too much about some and not enough about others.

I really want to love this book. It is engaging and at times thrilling. Erin Morgenstern will provide the world with some lasting work, I’m confident of that.

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Review: Fangirl

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book has been out for a while, so I’ll save you all the recap of the story. Instead, I’ll share what I liked, what I didn’t like, etc.

-Tight 3rd person POV.
-A refreshing spin on a common theme (coming of age).
-Excellent use of secondary character arcs and subtext. I’d love to read a more about Art (Cath and Wren’s dad).
-Unique structure intertwines Cath’s fanfiction, fiction, and real life. At first I thought I could skip the parts that showcased the other stories because I’m not a Harry Potter fan, but they seemed to build off one another. I marvelled at what I envisioned Rowell’s writing process–actually writing several books at once with the same theme and struggles but set in different realms of space and time.
-Realistic portrayal of first relationships and new loves. Cath is a creature of habit and feels safest in a routine, but the whole of college and being separated from her twin sister could send her into a tizzy. Instead, she clings to her constant–Simon Snow fanfiction. Conversely, it is Wren who falls apart, becoming the poster child for teens behaving badly.
-Untraditional love interests. I figured out early on that Nick was the antagonist, just like I knew it was Hans from his very first lines in “Frozen.” Maybe I’m a pessimist, but I’m definitely NOT a romantic. I knew from the beginning that Levi was into Cath and that he and Reagan weren’t truly dating. The complexity and depth of their relationship was a bit of a surprise. I never really believed Reagan was the mega bitch she pretended to be. I liked her from the start.
-Rowell writes in a way that draws you in and makes you not want to leave.

-Too tight of a POV. There is very little time spent with other interesting characters. I am unfamiliar with depression, anxiety, and mood disorders, so when it is revealed that Art lives with these issues (Cath acknowledges her own struggles but Wren doesn’t) and how the girls have coped, I was deeply intrigued. Then to learn not that their mother passed away as I initially suspected, but that she left them when they were old enough to remember the good and bad of her, I was so angry for Art, Cath, and Wren. I wanted to follow that arc and not go into Cath falling for Levi. Their family dynamic was much more interesting to me.
-The use of the other stories was confusing for a little while, particularly once they became so tightly bound. **I usually turn on my phone’s screen reader to listen to books during my commute, so if there were any physical markers other than asterisks, my reader didn’t pick them up.** After a while, I didn’t see how Cath’s story could exist without the others.
-The ending. I see a trend with Rowell, and I’m not sure I like it. Her endings don’t fade, they are like a cymbal crash of a bombastic march, and then it’s over. As with “Eleanor & Park,” I was left wanting but not entirely unfulfilled, which is not unlike Gillian Flynn’s ending which fade as if transitioning to another movement, so the audience doesn’t know to applaud or not. What we’ve just experienced was brilliant, but is there more?

I liked this book for it’s refreshing take on life. It exposed me to a realm I’m unfamiliar with, offering a bit of an escape and opportunity to explore new worlds. I totally want to read some Simon Snow (but not Harry Potter). “Fangirl” feels much more deliberately YA than “Eleanor & Park,” perhaps it’s because the latter reflects my generation, and therefore more relatable.

What I liked best is that Cath is incredibly unsure of everything except a couple of points: Simon Snow and her family. She fiercely fights, in her own way, to hold on to her truths and not lose herself. It seems detrimental at first, but Cath is so much tougher than what she seems.

“Fangirl” is definitely worth recommending, particularly for those who are embarking on major life changes. Stay true to yourself.

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Review: Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve wanted to read this book ever since my kids’ junior high school library committee had a debate about adding it to our shelves. I live in an urban community with a diverse racial and socio-economic population, so the arguments against the book by a scant few parents were laughable to me. The students my kids go to school with live Eleanor’s and Park’s story in some way or another every day–hell, I was Eleanor AND Park at one time.

“Eleanor & Park” is music; it is art. Rowell tells the story with a fresh rhythm that evokes nostalgia, fear, and optimism. Set in the late ’80s, I “got” all the pop culture references–that’s my generation. I wonder if the book has been classified as YA simply because it stars teens. “Eleanor & Park” is technically historical fiction (I feel ancient), but as I read more, I felt Rowell wrote the book for herself and others of our generation. I am grateful that she did. “Eleanor & Park” is a stellar read.

Everything about this book is familiar, but not. Eleanor could be my mother. Park could be my father. I was both Eleanor and Park at one time or another during my adolescence…so was my husband. Everything about this book tells a story so familiar yet completely different.

The cast of characters are richly developed, and the care taken with each one is evident regardless of how small their role may be.

Eleanor is a troubled teen who miraculously doesn’t let her problems at home completely consume her. She’s new in school. Not only that, everything about her sticks out like a sore thumb. She’s got bright red hair and freckles. She wears clothes that, according to Park, make her look like a gypsy hobo. Add to that, she’s a full-figured girl. Happenstance places her on a bus seat beside Park–his initial greeting is less than warm, but Eleanor knows how to move through the sea of cliques with minor damage. She keeps her head down and speaks only when she has to.

One of my favorite parts is when Eleanor laments that Park chose a different comic to read during their bus ride when she hadn’t finished “eaves-reading” the last one. At the same time, Park realizes that Eleanor has been “eye-hustling” his comics, but instead of cuffing them, he opens the pages wider so she can see. Aww. All the while their internal narration argues that they dislike the weird other. When Park silently hands Eleanor a stack of comics, I melted. They still haven’t said but a few words to one another, yet there is this connection–this unspoken conversation between the two. Park isn’t fully aware of what he’s doing or why, but he can’t get Eleanor out of his mind. Eleanor is just as taken with the “stupid, perfect, Asian kid”.

Park’s life is less than perfect. He lives in the shadow of his little brother, and his father seems to dislike that he is more Asian than Caucasian despite the fact that he adores Mindy (his Korean bride and mother of his children).

Told in third person POV, “Eleanor & Park” uses a deep perspective that draws the reader in to the POV character. Time is spent almost exclusively in Eleanor’s and Park’s mind.

To me, this book tells three stories: Eleanor and Park’s budding friendship and eventual romance, Eleanor’s story of her tormented home and school life, and unveiling Park’s less than picture-perfect existence. Each facet works together like pieces of an orchestra, to create a richly layered song.

The pacing of this book kept my interest from the first line to the last. Although I figured out the true source of Eleanor’s torment rather early on, it was still a surprise at how things played out. That ending… This one ended by allowing the reader to insert their own vision for Eleanor and Park, but don’t forget the preface…

I was lost in this book, and I mean that in the best way. Rowell pulled me in to Eleanor’s and Park’s world right away. It didn’t matter to me that these kids don’t look like me or the kids in my neighborhood–they speak a language most teens (and former teens) can understand. The cover art spotlights the couple’s connection to music, but because music (except for oldies and classical) was never really my thing, I glommed on to their shared love of comics as what drew them together. Although their exchanges and her holding onto double-A batteries like she’s Gollum is deeply touching, the comics built the bridge, though.

They’re geeks and they’re in love. They’re best friends and they’re in love. They’re set apart from the masses and they’re in love. Their banter is hilarious and sweet and nerdy and sad and hopeful.

“Eleanor & Park” isn’t perfect (I can’t find anything to complain about except maybe I’d like more time with Park and didn’t care for stating whose POV we were in), but it is an excellent book. I highly recommend this one. Rainbow Rowell is deserving of all the success this book what wrought her.

I love when I find an author whose words strike something within me that I want to read everything they’ve ever written or will write. I’ll be reading Rainbow Rowell for a long, long time.

The quote “She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.” is great–brilliant even, but I offer this one as my favorite: “You can be Han Solo,” he said, kissing her throat. “And I’ll be Boba Fett. I’ll cross the sky for you.” *Swoon* That kid is smooth!

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