Vacations from Hell is a short story collection/anthology featuring major YA authors–Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, and Claudia Gray to name three out of five–each with a few thousand words of compelling, voicey short story. These aren’t your Hemingway, however. They’re a lot more fun than that.
I have to confess I’m intensely curious about this new development in the Young Adult Fiction world. I want to know the story. Why did Harpercollins decide to put together an anthology? Did they know it would take off as well as it has? How did they select their authors? Is it a coincidence that at least two of the authors (the biggest names) have the same literary agent?
I gobbled this book in about 24 hours–good for me. Only one segment of the book was boring and skippable. The rest left no words wasted. Two of the stories left a strong impression on me; one was so odious to me I wondered how it had found its way into print.
Story #1: Cruisin’ by Sarah Mlynowski
Despite my childhood in the Bible belt of South Carolina, I found this character–Miss All Around Average–and her goal–doing it–worth reading about. Especially in the setting: a cruise ship.
The story went along I became increasingly curious as to how it would turn out thematically. Would she realize giving her virginity to Random Casino Guy #2 was a little shallow? Would she simply fail at her attempt? Would she succed and feel good? Bad?
This story has a twist at the ending. And it’s not predictable.
Unfortunately, the story would have worked much better if it had been predictable–only to the very perceptive. It would have worked better if the story had not been in first person. As is, the ending of this story is as annoying as it is shocking. It still leaves an impression. You want to talk about it. You can tell I’m dying not to give the spoiler away online. It’s good. It simply could have been 100x better.
Overall: Four stars.
Story #2: I Don’t Like Your Girlfriend by Claudia Gray
After reading about the shallow girls on the cruise ship, this story is a breath of fresh, moral air. Like a good number of us on the planet, this antagonist is bent on good. I liked her.
The story itself isn’t as strong as the first one. It’s simple, with a completely wrapped conclusion and and a few really cool imagery moments. I loved the hot tub scene. I will not see a hot tub the same way for some time.
Overall: Three & 1/2 Stars
Story #3: The Law of Suspects by Maureen Johnson
Hoo, boy. Where do I begin? I’ll start with the ranking. Two stars. One for setting and one for creativity.
1. The characters: Two are flat (creepy French guy and sister), two are unbelievable (sexy French guy and main character Charlie), and Charlie cannot be trusted–as she more or less confesses from the beginning. Also: Even if you acknowledge it as a fault in yourself, making out with Random French Boy #3 on the couch with a dead body on the floor and your homicidal sister locked in the basement is inexcusable.
2. The backstory/description: It goes on too long. I started skipping it. This was the only time in this anthology I felt compelled to do so. I don’t care how you got to the French country house. Just get me there. Good stories–especially short stories–should start as close to the end as possible. None of this backstory was even necessary to the central theme.
3. Lazy plotting: So many plot holes appear in this novel it isn’t funny. The author spends a lot of time setting up certain scenarios with little payoff. I was both stressed and impressed as I read her elaborate and confusing setup, but the tangling of fringes that the story created was never satisfyingly unraveled.
4. It leaves the reader feeling cheated. Enough said.
Overall: Two Stars.