Reviews, rants, and tidbits from an overpassionate novelist

I have moved!

Please keep up with the new and much improved Studies in Storytelling at http://studiesinstorytelling.blogspot.com/.

WordPress is fun. I must now aim for higher things.

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Premise: On the day Hadley has been dreading for months – nay, years – circumstances leader her to meet a certain gorgeous Brit. The title is somewhat misleading. A story that’s actually about the statistical probability of love at first sight would probably be much more situational than this one is. Trust me, you want this spoiler: Hadley does not fall in love at first sight. If you’re looking for a study of that moment itself, this isn’t the book for you.

Plot & Characters: They’re indistinguishable from each other. Yes!!!

This book is totally character driven. By the end of the story, characters have done things they would never have done at its beginning. The transition is convincing and flawless. About halfway through the novel, the main character has a delicious burst of initiative.

Main Character: Hadley is a bitter, self-involved brat who KNOWS how to notice and commune with the people around her, but just doesn’t WANT to. Her transformation is compelling.

Love interest: Oliver is a mysterious charmer with emphasis on the mystery. He’s a fascinating insta-crush full of stereotypical British snark and less stereotypical emotional defensiveness. Much of the mystery, however, goes unsolved. Hence, the love story part of this becomes shallow.

The ending involves some ambiguity in a way that invites re-reading and sleuth work. Check plus.

Alert: Vague spoilers that will likely just make you want to read this.

What I learned about storytelling: Perhaps the strongest part of the story is halfway through when Hadley pieces together the earth-shattering reveal about Oliver’s travels. This reveal happened on so many levels. Hadley realizes Oliver is in pain; how it compares to her own pain; and what she can do about it. Meanwhile the reader realizes both characters’ potentials for depth and change.

Gorgeously done.

It’s been a while since I’ve discovered a new shoujo manga (that’s actually been released in America) I could not put down. In fact, there really hasn’t been one since Dengeki Daisy. But simply reading the premise of this gave me chills. 

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Estranged high-school twins Arisa and Tsubasa are reunited after years of secret communication through letters – and Arisa promptly attempts suicide. In an effort to figure out why, Tsubasa disguises herself as her twin and attends Arisa’s high school. The reason has to do with an online personality called “The King” and his/her relationship to Arisa’s class. But will Arisa’s secrets destroy Tsubasa’s life, too?

Plot

Analyzing and re-analyzing every personality for clues as to the King’s identity – and Arisa’s suicide attempt – makes this manga somewhat character-driven and extremely compelling. Of course, some coincidences are a little too perfectly incidental. To Ando’s great credit, not all of Arisa’s classmates fall for Tsubasa’s Clark Kent-ism of her sister. They notice the differences in their personality and express different levels of concern.

Artwork

The art is reminiscent of Yuu Watase’s and rather typically shoujou. Big eyes for crying, detailed hair and outfits. Some proportions and angles are a little awkward. Natusme Ando is, however, yet another manga artist who has mastered the creepy smile. Delicious. 😀

Ando plays with the page panelling in ways I haven’t seen before. For example: Before Arisa’s suicide attempt, several pages corner with a snippet of a folded note – part of her reason for jumping. The reader doesn’t see the full note until she has gone over. Beautiful.

Characters

Because all peripheral characters are suspects who could be the King, even those who are flat at first develop new dimensions – especially once the class’s crowd psychology hits its frequent peaks.

Tsubasa herself struggles with her identity as she constantly compares herself to her sister and redefines her relationship to her sister. Her dark side could get deeper, but she’s no Mary Sue.

The cast includes:

  • Tsubasa – Too spunky/punky to get a boyfriend
  • Arisa – Too beautiful and popular to be considered anything less than perfect and happy
  • Takeru – An adorable “best friend” type, very committed to Tsubasa
  • Mariko – Arisa’s cutesy, innocent best friend
  • Midori – Arisa’s prestigious, nonchalant boyfriend
And a whole class full of suspects!
Playlist suggestions
  • For something cheesy – Happy Go Lucky by Steps
  • For something dramatic – Much Like Falling by Flyleaf
  • See Who I Am by Within Temptation
  • The Leaper by Deas Vail
  • All We Are by One Republic

There has to be a good song out there to express Arisa’s loving desire to figure her sister out. I’ll update when I find it. 🙂

What I learned about storytelling: Don’t underestimate double trouble. It can be hokey sometimes, sure, but there are always going to be new ways that it can actually tie into themes of identity and belonging. 

I am happy to announce a separate blog which shall motivate and inspire me to update this one more often. Two Southern Gingers in the Big City is the internship blog I’m writing with Ashley Poston.

In our supreme humility, we have mapped out all the bizarre things that would have to happen for this blog to turn into a movie.

  • We would have to get lost in the subway system and wind up somewhere bizarre and/or dangerous and perhaps have someone come to our rescue.
  • We could take a taxi to the wrong location and walk home dramatically in the rain.
  • One of us, and one of us alone, could get a book deal, leaving the other out in the cold.
  • The other (Ashley) could fall in love, creating balance once again.
  • The one who fell in love could fall for a fellow Random House intern, or an intern with a competing house, or a model.
  • My fiance could show up and surprise me. In Central Park.
  • Lost of other conflict-driven things we’d rather not speak of.

Let me know if you can think of any more! Here’s a picture of us failing to hail a cab.

What I learned about storytelling: Making things out to be cinematic is funnn.

Hello blogosphere! I do not obtrude upon thy orbits with my obtrusive gravitation nearly enough.

I’ve landed an internship with Random House this summer. This is so huge to me, I never would have dreamed of it. I never would have imagined I’d have the resources.

I got the chance to send in my resume t through a personal connection.
I got the interview through the strength of my resume.
I got the job through the interview. I actually interviewed on my birthday, so I was just determined to have fun. I did – and I suppose my new supervisor did, too.

I’ll be working in the Publisher Services side of Random House which translates, edits, markets, and distributes for Kodansha Comics. This was previously Del Rey Manga. They’ve got Negima, Ghost in the Shell, Fairy Tail – and the Sailor Moon re-release! Agh!!!

I hope to be blogging about this A LOT in the days to come.

❤ File this under: Life is Beautiful.

First of all, I am excited to own a signed copy of this even though I’ve seen signed copies in every bookstore I’ve been in all month – everywhere from Fort Mill, SC to Jacksonville, NC. I know there was some confusion and people received copies of the books before its release date, so I think he might have taken advantage of the accident.

These characters were incredibly tangible. John Green’s characters always are, though he can recycle them a bit. Looking for Alaska and An Abundance of Katherines, for example, have extremely similar dynamics between protagonist, love interest, and best friend.

Like with Looking for Alaska, this is not a book that affords you the luxury of blissful ignorance. It promises to be a loaded gun, a tearjerker in the sense that it’s completely unfair. This probably isn’t for everyone.

But in this subject matter, he wrestles with questions that cannot be answered. For example: Should a terminal individual expand themselves and soak up life and touch the lives of others while they still can, or is more ethical to minimize the devastation of death?

I’m really glad he refrained from answering it – or rather, I’m glad he answered yes to both sides, in a way.

He’s a wonderful author, and I’m not going to fault his stars. Even though I don’t usually star things, he gets five.

 

I’ve been noticing Maureen Johnson’s name on anthologies and twitter feeds, always listed near authors I love. This was my first impression of her writing. I found it promising, yet somehow unremarkable. Let me try to break down why. Perhaps thriller/fantasy isn’t Maureen’s thing.

Good points:
The main character is most interesting when she acts particularly southern – to wonderful comic effect. Whenever someone walks up to her without a greeting and launches into a rant, she replies, very simply, “Hi.” How much more charmingly Southern can you get?

And her sidekicks are often more interesting than she is! I want to be Jazza, despite her flaws. “Aside from being the kind of person who used ‘whom’ correctly while gossiping, Jazza was also the kind of person who seemed pained about speaking badly about another person. She squeezed up her fists a few times, as if the gossip required physical pressure to leave her body.” Boo is equally three-dimensional, with flaws, careless moments, and courage beyond the ordinary capacity of the adolescent.

The atmosphere is excellent. You don’t forget you’re in London for a second. Often, you forget that it’s the present day and start thinking it’s either ghostbuster 80’s or 1888. Other times you think Maureen Johnson must have spent a semester abroad in London in college and badly needed the excuse to get all the details she garnered out of her notebook somehow.

Flaws:

Slight spoiler, but one you probably want to know:  She isn’t the hero of the story. If she had succeeded in dying to protect her friends, perhaps she could have been. But in the end, she is robbed of this honor by a minor, one-dimensionally didactic character, and is more of a pathetic punching bag than anything else.

Outdated references/technology: Okay, I’M in college now, and I missed the Spice Girls fad. A present-day high schooler clearly would have missed it too. The phones with pressable number keys are acknowledged as outdated, but it sure seems like there could have been a stronger technology pick. No references to texting/computer use whatsoever. Oh, and a girl who’s been displaced in London for eight temporary months makes no effort to contact any friends back home.

Romance: One-dimensional, uninteresting classmate love interest, who can be proud of “floppy curls and his goofy Ripper obsession” (along with everyone else in London) at best. There’s a cute library haunter who’s way more appealing, but she doesn’t even think about it.

Thematic flaws were the most uncomfortable.

At its thematic best, this novel is a bit of a meditation on the fandom surrounding Jack the Ripper: Why is he such a big deal? The character Jerome says it’s because Jack killed without rhyme or reason, for what seems to be a purely psychological purpose, and in this way, he’s known as “the first modern killer.” Well, if that’s why we like Jack, this book is a ripoff! (No pun intended.) Maureen’s ripper is not a psychological modern killer, but someone with an agenda.

Its conclusion to this meditation is further jarring. The characters all agree that the truth behind Jack the Ripper is bound to be disappointing, and the hype surrounding it is fallacious. The people who want to hear about him? What stupid losers.

Why are we reading this book? Why is the author exploring this premise?

Hello???

I almost feel that this book REQUIRES a sequel to fill in the thematic gaps and to turn the main character into an actual hero. And maybe to make Jazza a more relevant part of the story.

But how can that happen? The Ripper is gone.

 

I took a look at this book because it’s told in SECOND PERSON OMG. I think this experimentation is a truly great thing in the world of YA lit.

But I regret to say that if it hadn’t been told in SECOND PERSON OMG, I would not have read beyond the cover. I read thirty five pages of it, then skipped to the end. Here’s why.

The prologue involves some kind of accident involving blood, and the main character trying to figure out where things went wrong. There are hints that he’s on a track toward death. Yet, all of the content you get to fill in these spaces does not involve A) Deep, involving emotion, B) extraordinary, interesting circumstances, or even C) eloquent angst. It’s mostly cliched whining about authority and academic boredom.

The love interest is flat and cliched in every way. The friends are flat and cliched in every way. After thirty five pages, the only glimmer of redeeming character depth is a one-sentence panic attack that culminates in a didactic break of POV in its rush to be quickly dismissed.

This is not how teenagers work. Sure, we can all dismiss and hide from guilty feelings. But if it’s THAT easy, it’s boring.

What gets me is how overwhelmingly didactic the story is; kid hangs out with rough crowd, angst a bit, one things leads to another, then blood. We’ve all seen this horror story. We’ve been forced to endure it in Drivers Ed classes, Don’t Drink Seminars, etc.

Who thought that telling it in second person was a good idea?? It reads like a sermon from the bored; every other sentence could begin with “Of course.”

At least for the first thirty-five pages, it’s downright condescending.

I’ll admit it. I read this book for the cover:

Come on. It’s gorgeous. Emotional. Thought-provoking. I wanted to know what it was about.

I’m going to give you an important piece of information up front: It’s a cliffhanger in the worst way. Very little is resolved at the end. It is not a self-contained story.

Buuuut I am looking forward to reading the rest.

Strengths:

The story blurs genres and borders on literary. Are we reading about the supernatural or simply post-traumatic stress disorder? Young adults who have been diagnosed with anxiety/depression/bipolar are common and this book exaggerates and begs the questions the many of them are asking: How crazy is crazy?

The love interest is a fantastic character. A modern Mr. Darcy with plenty of style, flirtation, flaw, and appeal. Reading this as purely a love story is very reductive compared to what it tries to be, with the many other elements it explores – but it’s probably the most effective and appealing way to read it.

The letter at the very beginning is pretty cool. You find out that Mara Dyer isn’t Mara Dyer’s real name, but simply the name she’s chosen to work with while she writes out this story. She’s telling this story for a reason – this appeals to me immensely.

Flaws:

Of course, its failure to be a self-contained story is a flaw.

I don’t think Michelle Hodkin really meant to portray anything like PTSD, and the way the story is set up is somewhat misleading about it. PTSD is a disorder which involves a person who is unable to stop thinking about a traumatic event. Mara finds it pretty darn easy to move on. After the first seventy pages or so, it’s easy to forget that this girl’s best childhood friend and boyfriend just died. I understand the author probably felt pressure to avoid angsting but… a girl in that situation would probably, in fact, angst a bit. She has every license to angst a bit. And she doesn’t. She just moves along, pursues new relationships, and comes off as a bit of a sociopath. I was truly hoping that the novel would climax in her realizing all of the emotion she’s been repressing – no such luck.

The quotations on the back are misleading. This book is not that scary! Mara, whose head we are always within, operates under the assumption that the scary things that happen to her are not real, but hallucinations and delusions. They don’t fail to operate in that way.

Hope this is helpful.

This book gave me a panic attack.

I say this as a testament to its power. The vision of this dystopian novel is both beautiful and horrifying. A few generations from now, technology will exponentially expand possibilities for travel – fly to the moon for a vacation, zip across the country in your upcar – but as that technology developed and humanity became so dependent upon them, corporations became king. The government is their pawn.

As the accumulation of this corruption and the technological advancement, people have something called the FEED, a microchip, implanted into their brains. They can communicate with their friends and co-workers instantaneously, enabling telepathy at all times, and Facebook forever frames their vision. Everyone has constant access to the Internet, so School(TM) is a sham of its former self.

Sounds okay so far, right? Well, the FEED also replaces basic body functions, so it’s impossible to disable once it’s been implanted. Carriers of the Feed are doomed to forever be barraged with ADVERTISEMENTS for anything they look at and happen to like – from a pair of pants to a news article – as the Feed tries to catch onto their habits and tastes and know how to market to them.

Constant advertisements full of flattery, cliche language, and impossible promise in conjunction with abounding instant gratification turns people into a society of UNEDUCATED BRATS, who take boundless luxury for granted and are unable to deal with sickness, death, and the realities of the universe.

This book was difficult for me to read, and THAT FACT is the most terrifying of all. I didn’t want to deal with it, the way the characters don’t want to deal with any reality beyond the cocoon of their boundlessly giving Feed.

It was fascinating to read alongside The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson, not to mention Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.

Five stars for horror, vision, and accuracy.

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