13 December 2010

Hey Printz Commitee--I Hope You're Paying Attention to This!

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly (2010, Delacorte Press)
Review by Laura Beutler

I am predisposed to love books. I think it’s because I love the act of reading so very much that, as long as what I’m reading isn’t overly offensive to me, I love it. Excessively. I’ve realized as I read and review books, how very fickle I am. My favorite book is constantly changing. Usually, it’s the one I’ve just finished.

Rarely, though, there comes a book that stands apart from the other favorites. These are books that have a spark, a something Other, that speaks to me. I can’t explain why I love them. I just do. It feels as if the author wrote their book just for me. I mean, clearly Diane Setterfield knew that if she wrote a novel about a woman who loved books, who discovered an amazing author when that author contacted her, who went off to a huge, empty house to interview this author; it would mean she’d written the perfect novel for one Laura Beutler (Yeah, The Thirteenth Tale was for me. Jealous?). The same goes for Elizabeth Kostova, who seems to understand exactly how obsessed I am with a good chunk of research. If a blank notebook had landed on my desk one morning, I would have filled it with notes too, as I tried to figure out what exactly the mark on the cover meant, who sent it, and why they wanted me to have it. She gets it, and that’s why she wrote The Historian. For me.*

When I find a book like that, I drop everything in my life.

No really. Everything.

Hey, it’s not like I’m doing anything that important anyway.)

It happened on Tuesday.

I’d snatched up a copy of Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly during my last trip to Barnes and Noble. I saw it sitting there, looking at me as if to say, “Read me, Laura…Read me!” As with all books, once I heard the call, I couldn’t resist. Moments later, I was photographing the cover while Rachael drove through Fort Wayne, sending the image to Bailey as I claimed the right to review it. Once home, I started reading, then impulsively closed the cover, put the book on my nightstand, and waited.

That’s because I could tell. I needed to have time for this book, time set aside just for it, so I could enjoy its utter perfection.

Tuesday, I read Revolution in one sitting.

Revolution is a masterpiece.

I don’t think I could adequately express to you exactly why it’s so perfect. But just putting it on a list of top ten books from 2010…feels like an insult. No matter how much I love the other books on those lists, and I do, not one of them can compare to Revolution.

I am in love with this book. In love with the narrator, Andi. In love with her broken heart, her music, her mother, and the key she wears around her neck. I love the diary Andi finds locked away in an ages-old guitar case. And I love Alex, who wrote the diary. And Alex’s fireworks--I love those, too.

Plot synopsis time:
Andi, who lives in present-day Brooklyn, is barely functioning. She takes antidepressants like candy, but they still don’t control her grief or her anger. Andi’s younger brother, Truman, is gone, and nothing can bring him back. Her life isn’t worth living now that he’s dead. By the start of winter break, she’s near expulsion from her elite private school. That’s when Andi’s father decides to intervene. He takes Andi to Paris, where she will stay with him as he assists his friend, G, with research.

Once in Paris, Andi finds the diary of Alexandrine, a street performer in Paris whose encounter with young Prince Louis-Charles changes her life forever. Alex chronicles her life during the horrific world of the French Revolution in the journal and conceals it in her guitar case. Andi is captivated by Alex’s diary, until one evening when she’s drawn into the story, moving into Alex’s world to face the terror firsthand.

What happens to Andi happened to me as I read Revolution. Alex’s world became more real to me than the room around me (or all the meals I skipped while reading). For a little while, I was in Paris reading that diary, munching fresh bread and living in a chilly made-over factory surrounded by the physical remnants of the Revolution.

There are a few books that I will always keep. They have a place of honor on my bookshelf, where they are arranged neatly, always at the ready so I can reread them at will. No one may borrow them, but I have extra copies to loan out, so I can still force others to read them. Their place on the shelf is permanent, even if I have to buy a bigger bookshelf to fit all my favorites.** Revolution has been added to this shelf.

I hope you all will read it and love Revolution as much as I do.

*Sure, maybe you might think she wrote it for all of us. But you’re wrong. Clearly, she wrote it for me. But I’ll share.
**Does anyone else have a shelf like this, or books you love this much?

04 December 2010

What Is Normal?

It might interest you to know, that when we draft these joint-reviews we meet first on Skype to have a very long, detailed discussion about the book. Inevitably, there is some dawdling before we actually get down to business. This month, with the release of Harry Potter and the Dealthy Hallows Part I, we discussed the knitting of House socks (Gryffindor, Slytherin, Ravenclaw, and Hufflepuff), and Bailey’s inability to knit.  Laura swears she can learn via YouTube and that bamboo chopsticks can double as knitting needles.  

This summary doesn’t begin with phrase, “Evie was a normal, sixteen-year-old girl until...”  Nope.  Evie, short for Evelyn, was never a normal girl. She grew up an orphan in the foster care system, until one day, when she was eight, she had a little run in with a vampire in a park. Thankfully for her, the APCA (American Paranormal Containment Agency) swooped in and saved her just in time. And then discovered that Evie could see through glamours-- those pesky illusions that vampires, werewolves, hags, faeries, and other fantastical and mythical creatures hid behind to blend in with humans and lure in their victims.
A treaty was signed because of Evie, entire countries put aside their differences of policy and practice because of Evie, and the IPCA (International Paranormal Containment Agency)was formed because of Evie.  Evie gallivants all around the world, tracking down one supernatural bad guy or girl at a time. Needless to say, Evie is mega-important. But maybe not in the ways that matter to a girl of sixteen.
That is, until she meets Lend-- a boy her age and a shape-shifter-- who gets detained at the IPCA Center she lives at. And then, Evie’s already bizarre and completely abnormal life becomes more bizarre--not that she knew that was possible.  Oh yeah, and it doesn’t help that her ex-boyfriend, a faerie named Reth, seems to be the jealous kind.


Laura: I had to tell Kiersten White off on Twitter for some events in the book. She did apologize, though. Maybe not for the events...but for making me scream. I screamed a little.

Bailey: That was nice of her.

Laura: It was the perfect post-surgery* book for me because I didn't feel compelled toward literary analysis. I could concentrate on the story and just enjoy reading. I love that. And it was suspenseful but, for me at least, not at all predictable. I didn't sit there in Chapter One thinking: "Ugh! I know exactly what type of being Evie is, why can't she just figure it out? Is she an idiot?"
Was it like that on a drug-free brain? What did you think?

Bailey (after a few moments of panic because she erased the bookmarks attached to her notes on her Nook):  Let’s start with characters and creatures.  I never really do the literary-analysis, that’s your bit Laura, but the characters and the creatures were fantastic.  White brought into this books a TON of creatures: vampires, werewolves, mermaids, hags, faeries, humans, water nymphs, and WHATEVER Lend and Evie are.
Each creature has its species characteristics, but each character has its own very distinct personality.  I think that had to be tough to really create, but White does it magnificently.  Like with Tish, the mermaid, and her robotic voice.

Laura: And her bleeps! My family uses bleeps instead of Naughty Words.

Bailey: *snorts* The robotic voice thing is normally so creepy when it’s heard in movies, or attached to something creepy in books, but White turned this robotic voice into a positive characteristic, one I LOVED.

Laura: Then, there is Tasey** (a pink rhinestone-encrusted Taser and Evie’s right-hand weapon).  I adored Tasey. I loved Tasey so much, I want a Tasey. I have all the crafty stuff--I just need the actual Taser.

Bailey: I also loved Tasey. I have a thing for female characters that like pink (or really, any color) and rhinestones and could still kick my ass. Not that Evie ever did kick anyone’s ass, she just electrocuted them. Which also seemed realistic.  I’m not saying there aren’t women who CAN kick some serious butt, but for the rest of us, a Taser is a completely acceptable form of self-defence.

Laura: Evie didn’t need to kick anyone around, which was good, but she could have. She had weapons TRAINING.

Bailey: I like that about Evie--her ability TO defend herself, but her lack of blood lust-- mostly because I have thing about people assuming that because a person knows HOW to incapacitate someone, that must mean that person wants to do it all the time. Not so much. Self-defense is a very useful life skill. One I encourage.

Laura:  You shouldn’t WANT to smack people around, but you should know how to take care of yourself.  Of course, Evie had a few other characteristics that are a little more relatable: like her obsession with a single TV show, Easton Heights.  Like how I am with TVD (The Vampire Diaries), Fringe, and many more.

Bailey: Which isn’t ONE show, Laura, but I get your point.  It reminded me of how everyone at my high school watched The O.C.  There were parties. There were extensive MySpace discussions.  
And Evie’s fascination with lockers . . . So adorable.  She had so many adorable traits, and yet, was spunky and independent.  I liked her more for that.

Laura: It was those little traits of hers that made her so realistic! Because those are the things you'd miss if you'd lived your whole life away from "normal".

But seriously, the creatures,
we absolutely loved them, as both critical readers and as emotionally-invested readers.

Bailey: OH and I love that vampires WERE NOT SUPER STRONG. That they were CORPSES underneath.

Laura: YES. Also that they weren't super-good-looking. I am tired of that. Super-good-looking stands out. If you were trying to hide your blood-sucking ways, you wouldn't want to stand out, would you?

Bailey: Vampires used to be into three big things, I think:  sucking blood, being bats, and adding to the creepiness of literature.

Laura: That made them more frightening! Look at The Historian!

Bailey: Seriously. And vampires (usually) have mind control. Why does a vampire need to attract people on looks? If I were a vampire, I would just look at you and say, “Shut up. Don’t scream while I suck you dry.”
Blood-sucking corpses are creepy.  Strong, handsome men who bite you are not. I am not necessarily opposed to the vampire as a sex symbol, but I am excessively relieved that in this book they were not.

Laura: Yes. It made this particular book more original, while still keeping within the realm of paranormal romance.

Bailey: Though, I won't lie, Lend (an important male lead) creeped me out at the beginning.  Which kind of intrigued me. But I had a hard time imagining a mostly invisible, skin-changing boy, which is realistic to his character as he was mostly invisible.

Laura: Yes. But he creeped me out in a non-threatening way, because I watch a lot of Star Trek. Lend was just like Odo!

Bailey: I didn’t make the Star Trek jump, but I did save up most of my threatening-creepy feelings for Reth.  Reth TERRIFIED me every time he showed up on the page. Thinking about Reth now is giving me the chills.

Laura: I love how similar the faeries were to the Celtic traditions! Faeries are SUPPOSED to be terrifying. And Reth was VERY frightening. Even more so because he was basically a psychopath.

Bailey: I was happy to be terrified by him, but he disturbed me. That’s the mark of a good villian.

Laura: The concept Reth giving over part of his soul to Evie creeped me out. That was freaky.

Bailey: And forcing his soul onto her. And.. the whole release the souls to me at the end...

Laura: I don't know...the whole process was kind of...I don't know how to put it...invasive. Literary Analysis Laura thought the scenes seemed like a kind of rape.

Bailey: They WERE like a rape. Which not only added to Reth’s creep-factor, but also was a crucial aspect of the faeries’ creature-dynamic. To Reth, his force was acceptable and needed and he couldn’t grasp why Evie wouldn’t accept his “gift”.  To Evie (and the rest of us human readers), it was like rape.

Laura: Especially the concept of voicelessness that Evie felt. It made me feel sick, and want to throw Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson at Evie. So she could feel less alone.

Bailey: With the creatures, and there are a ton in this book--faeries, mermaids, hags, werewolves, and the mysterious Lend & Evie--a lot of attention was paid to folklore and tradition. I have a thing for books that are obviously well-researched, and White delivered.

Laura: I loved that, especially with the faeries, because they are so often screwed up in modern works.

Now, to the adult figures,
we have to say, jointly, that we were disappointed by their actions in this book. We had an excessively long discussion about adult-figures across the YA genre sparked by the notion, “if the adults didn’t see EVENT happen, then the teenager must be lying or exaggerating”.  Here is an excerpt*** that pertained exclusively to Paranormalcy.

Laura: But the adults were mostly absent in this book--Raquel, Evie’s mothering figure, and Lend’s father--which also made me angry.

Bailey: But that begs the question of, were the adults-being-absent the adults’ fault or was that a poor author choice? Or a good author choice to make a point?
It seemed strange to me that Raquel, Evie’s mother figure, didn't seem to be searching for her after the escape. That REALLY pissed me off. But it made me mad at Raquel, not at the writing or the characterization.

Laura: I just read an essay on that topic a couple weeks ago. The argument was that it was ALWAYS a sign of weak writing that parents of teen protagonists were out of the picture. I disagree with that argument. But, sometimes, I think it's an easier choice.
In Paranormalcy, I think the lack of parents for Evie was necessary. She couldn't come from a family, because she'd been made, not born. The emptiness and detachment Evie felt were key to the development of the story and the development of Evie as a character. BUT, Raquel could have still acted like a person to Evie, if not a mother.

Bailey: I wasn't particularly upset by the lack of adult interaction because of the shape and development of the story, but I was UPSET by Raquel.  She was this figure that SHOULD HAVE BEEN a parent figure and failed.  (Again, a good author choice to make her that way, but a way she was made.)

Laura: I wanted to shake her, because (good writing moment here) you could tell she loved Evie, but she didn't make Evie know it.

Bailey: I did enjoy Evie's realization of Raquel as NOT her parent.  She kind of always knew that, but clung to her regardless.  I thought the development of Evie coming around to Raquel's character was very powerful.

Laura: It was “scientific detachment” thing because of the environment that Raquel and Evie interacted and grew up in.

Bailey: The relationship with Raquel and Evie, while seriously infuriating, was also a good one to have in YA literature. I hate when its just assumed that a parental figure loves and loves correctly. Parents/guardians screw kids up in the best and worst ways imaginable. It is missing from YA literature, in some aspects, I think.

Laura: Parents aren't black and white--you don't have parents that are 100% bad all the time and parents that are always perfect. You have a blend. I love realistic parents in YA lit.

And so, overall impressions were...
that we agreed about a lot of aspects of this book.  While we can’t wait to one day find a book that we disagree on, for now, we are more than happy to send you to the library, the bookstore, the Internet, a friend’s bookshelf in search of Paranormalcy.  

And we can’t wait to review the second in this series, Supernaturally, in the future.  

End Notes:

* For those not in the know, Laura had gallbladder surgery recently. She is recovering, but still stitched-together.

** Robotic voice is a clear jump to Taser here.  Obviously.

*** If you would be interested in the entire discussion of adult figures in YA literature, please leave a comment below.  We might be willing to rehash this into a formal article on the subject for this blog with enough reader interest.