Monday, April 21, 2014

Shine by Lauren Myracle

A boy beaten, bound, and left for dead, words of hate scrawled across his chest...
A girl shrinking from life, enslaved by a shameful secret...
A tight-knit Southern community riddled by poverty, clannishness, drugs, and intolerance...
When Patrick is found near death, strung to the pump of the local gas station, sixteen-year-old Cat emerges from her self-imposed exile to avenge the horrors inflicted on her former best friend. The local sheriff is ready to pin the crime on gay-bashing out-of-towners, but Cat's suspicions lie elsewhere. Despite ominous warnings to leave it be, Cat finds the will -- fueled by fury born of an old injustice -- to expose the homegrown hatred that gave rise to Patrick's attack.
Bestselling author Myracle has crafted a hypnotic mystery, steeped in a sense of place, that is also a searing coming-of-age story: an exploration of loss, guilt, and fear fused inseparably with a tale of courage, resiliency, and love.

~Print copy, 350 pages
Published: 2011 by Amulet Books

As much as I wanted to love this... I can't quite get there. It's rather random, my bits and pieces of opinion, but this post is supposed to organize it into something coherent.

I liked that this is set in the South. Everything seems to be set in New York or London, or even another world. I come across few novels set in the good old American South.

Books about gays are also rare to cross my sightline. This copy I've read comes from my local library. I've seen it in Barnes and Noble, but my mother happens to be very Christian-like and... well, she's the one with the money. But even then, either nothing's being mentioned in the summary or they are not here, because most of it looks overwhelmingly heterosexual romance. (See my rant on not finding what I want here.)

What also caught my eye was the main character, Cat, took off from chapter one. Literally. It is within a chapter that she breaks out of that "self-imposed exile" and decides to chase her friend's assailant. In truth, this is somewhat shaky to me -- I would have liked to see her in exile, not just in flashbacks but during the story time. But still, she can be a hardy character, not some fluffy-headed princess who walks down that haunted corridor and opens that spooky door despite your irritated shouts at her to stop.

The mystery part, too, was actually pretty good. I won't spoil the ending, but the twist was pretty well-carried out -- I never saw that ending coming, and simultaneously I could see how it led there. And those types of endings pack quite the punch.

On the other hand, there were quite a few things that churned in my gut.

One of the major secondary characters, Jason. I don't know about you, but college boys hanging around 16-year-olds seems a bit... creepy. To be in college, I have to assume he's at least 18 or older. I turn 18 tomorrow. Even I can tell you that who I am now and who I was then are VASTLY different -- at 16, I was vulnerable, even more timid than I am now. I didn't see things like I do now, things like the whole picture -- not even a bigger picture, than my own little world. Two years is forever.

And that is the minimum age he could be -- he has two more years, maybe three or four or even five years, than she has in terms of experience, of that seeing the whole picture. I don't care if she likes him. I don't care that she is "mature" or "fearless" or anything else. I don't like the way this sort of relationship -- between two teenagers of vastly different ages -- was portrayed, set aside, made sort of... cute, in a way. My parents would not let my 16-year-old sister hang out with an 18-year-old -- and she has. And that sort of thing ends badly.

I also wasn't fond of how quickly things went. Like I said, Cat was raring to go from chapter one. She's well into character development within a couple more. Near the end, it began feeling kind of preachy, like there was a lesson being pushed on me. All that there's-good-in-everyone sort of lesson, where there's no real villain, because no one's a real villain.

And going off of that, I don't like how quickly her quietness was cast aside at a moment's notice. Now, I've never really been attacked myself, and I've never dealt with the consequences, when someone I love has been hurt or even overly sick. But still, Cat acted like being quiet and withdrawn was just a phase she never wanted to go back to. There was her talk of how much it hurt her friends, that she stood by; even counted herself among evil people, because she didn't say "yes" to the world and go after everything.

But being quiet and withdrawn takes over your life. I know. I barely speak more than the Pledge of Allegiance in the mornings and a paltry conversation during lunch on any given day. It deserves more than just paragraphs here and there vaguely describing how she didn't stand up for [insert friend here]. It's a lifestyle, and there's more than one type of "withdrawn" person. It can be everything, it affects everything in a worldview, and quite frankly, I've been trying to find a way even partially out of "self-imposed exile", and it doesn't go away with one decision. It doesn't go away with a chest full of fury -- I have been furious, and it gets you nowhere when you are used to a certain quiet lifestyle.

And I refuse to believe that it is entirely negative, because there is something healing and calm in not being around people, about not being so extroverted as to have lots of conversations with people every day. It's not quite evil at all, really. I do have friends, now, but I've been at the place where I am a ghost. And it's lonely. But it isn't negative, not some phase to cast off and see the error of my ways, like it seems from this novel. It's a place of mind where you can think, and see yourself.

And, while it seems kind of minor after my talks of my philosophy, this novel can become character soup at points. It's a small town, I know, and she knows everyone's name, but the ladies at the church? Aren't entirely deserving of a name. And the librarian. And the names of the parents, of the kids she keeps talking to. At times, I became somewhat confused, and this wasn't really annoying in and of itself -- but in conjunction with my questioning some of the way other things were being portrayed, it really did pick on my nerves.

All in all, I wasn't entirely fond of this novel. Not really. The bits I liked about this novel -- the setting, the fact that it is about homosexuality, rather than the homogeneous heterosexuality -- seem kind of small in comparison with the way I dislike some of the other aspects. I don't like the way being quiet, or relationships with older teenagers, were sort of made cute, set aside, in favor of the plot, or of flashbacks of her and Patrick. How being quiet looked like something she had to "get over", and how meeting with a guy at least two years older than her was made casual.

I don't really know if I'd recommend this to someone. If you take anything from this post, it's that I am not always entirely clear myself on how I feel about it. But it does grate against what I believe in places, and I'm not sure I would actively seek someone out and place this book in their hands. All I can really give in terms of whether or not someone else would want to read this is a lengthy post explaining my tangled reasoning and hoping for a discussion.

And, having said that, I give this novel a 2.5 stars, because while I am not entirely in agreement with it, I really do respect a good plot twist. (Rounded up to 3 stars.)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Well, you know... Life.

I'm on spring break right now. Yea. Spring Break. Do you know how I've spent it? Watching TV, knitting, petting my cats. I finished the draft of my WIP, so I've put my writing down for this week -- make it truly a break. I haven't even really been reading; I've picked up and put down half a dozen novels since Saturday.

Sometimes I wish I could just-- I just wish I could get out of my house every now and then. I don't have a driver's license, but even if I did, there just isn't much to do around my neighborhood. This is the suburbs: a lot of residential homes, a convenience store within walking distance (though, without money, isn't exactly ideal); there's a Wal-Mart 20 minutes away, and a Food Lion maybe ten minutes from here, and a couple of libraries. Barnes and Noble and a movie theater are also twenty minutes up the road.

But still, I've been to the library this week. I have no money to go to any stores, or to a move theater. There aren't really "parks" around here, except one like half an hour away. And that's like a Lord of the Rings adventure, to go that far. We generally don't like spending a fortune in gas.

So instead, I sit here. I just watched three hours of Bones, on TNT. I ate a bag of popcorn. Colored in my coloring book. Knitted a little. Something heavy and sad sits in my rib cage, like a rock of emotion tying me to the couch. Which sounds a little melodramatic, but sometimes I might as well be tied to the couch. My cats come and sit on my chest, Siamese cats who'll compete to sit up on my shoulders and on my chest. (I think the ones who get stuck sitting in my lap and on my legs are further down the hierarchy. Because, yes, cats do have a social hierarchy -- probably a very strict one, considering how much they claw at each other.)

I've been considering college. And, like a lot of the rest of my life, I fear I'll have to settle for my second best. Actually, between the three I've been accepted to, there are two I'm considering with any enthusiasm. One is a co-ed college, the other an all-women's college. I'd like to go to the all-women's college. I'm planning on majoring in archaeology, which involves hard sciences like chemistry and earth science -- in an all-women's college, I could hope to avoid some of the -- well, men. I took chemistry last year, earth science my freshman year. Sometimes the guys get a lot of attention, even though the teachers -- female teachers -- do their best to get to us shy girls stuck at our little table near the middle of the room.

But of course, the women's college is more expensive. The enrollment is like, $500. The enrollment at the co-ed college is $300. And the co-ed college is close enough to my granddad's that I could live off-campus, cutting down on costs even more. No study abroad. No trips across the country after I graduate this June. At the co-ed, they offer a classics major, too -- that should offer less hard sciences, right? More art history? Perhaps I could take that.

Or, maybe, I could just not go to college at all. My sister and mother have incurred enough student debt without me adding to it. (Actually, I don't think we even qualify for loans.)

Maybe I could get a full-time temp job over the summer, at the factory where my dad works. I could spend twenty years working there, just like him, and marry and have kids and never have any money above a middle-middle class existence, just. Like. My. Family.

Is it so much to wonder, that maybe I want a little something more? To travel, even if it makes my stomach churn in anxiety? To... to be rich, one day, lots of money, and I wouldn't have to worry about whether or not I can afford to go to college, or sit around bored during Spring Break while other students get to go to other states, visit family, go on vacation?

I realize that I need more than a high school diploma to do anything. But a college degree is no guarantee, either, and I don't even really want to go. I am just getting out of the public school system. I don't want to go back into another educational system, one I can't actually afford, even with the rather hefty scholarships they're throwing my way, even if they offer me into their Honors program with smaller classes and more control over what classes I want to take.

If only I could... I don't know. Be free to sit in a library, in any library, and just read what I want to learn for myself. No sitting in hard science classes, where I may or may not get to actually do lab work, depending on what gender my lab partner is. (In an archaeology major, probably a guy. There aren't exactly many who decide to major in it, and I imagine quite a few of them are male, as a lot of science-y jobs are.)

But, of course, life will not fall at my feet and give me whatever I want. I could not go to college, and maybe end up like my brother -- working hard, all day, no flexibility in hours, and at the end of the year get nothing back in tax returns. I could go to college; perhaps I'll be like my mother, who's getting her master's degree in religion, who complains sometimes of male teachers who never give her more than, "It's alright," even when she's spent all day on a paper to perfect it and most of the other guys in her class slapped something together. Spend all day reading and annotating and writing essays, like that's all there is to life -- essays waxing eloquent about one topic or another, no flair allowed.

I know the essays we write in public school. College ones just seem to be longer and more unnecessarily complex. And I am sick of writing them.

But I can't just become a writer. I can't afford to sit around all day and daydream. But I can't stand working my entire life and getting nothing back, or wracking up so much debt I'll be paying it off the rest of my life, and maybe also get nothing in return.

Maybe one day I'll leave the United States, go to... I don't know. Ireland. Russia. Australia. Maybe, while I'm at it, I could grow a pair of wings and join a fairy cult. Because I can't really do what I want, become whoever I want to be, like those well-meaning adults in elementary school tell you. Sometimes, I really can't do anything at all, except sit on my couch. Now it's a marathon of Law and Order: Criminal Intent.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Storybook of Legends by Shannon Hale

On Legacy Day each years, the students at the Ever After High boarding school sign the Storybook of Legends and pledge to fulfill their destinies as the next generation of Snow Whites, Prince Charmings, and Evil Queens. Everyone believes that refusing to sign means both you and your story will vanish forever after. Poof!
Raven Queen, however, is having doubts. As the daughter of the Evil Queen, it is her destiny to give the poisoned apple to Snow White's daughter. But Raven has a spark of rebellion in her heart, and she knows one thing for sure: Evil is so not her style.
On the other hand, the royal Apple White, daughter of the Fairest of Them All, cannot wait for Legacy Day! It will be the day she shuts the book on getting her Happily Ever After. But her destiny is intertwined with Raven's, and if rebel Raven doesn't sign the Storybook of Legends, it could mean a Happily Never After for them both.

~Print copy (from the library), 304 pages
Published: 2013 by Little, Brown and Company

Okay, so this is a princess book. The pages are decorated in pink and purple. Sometimes the narrator has characters with one of the secondary characters in the book (Maddie, the Mad Hatter's daughter). And it alternates between Apple White's point of view and Raven's, and Apple's point of view -- to be frank -- is nauseatingly happy. (What did you expect from the daughter of Snow White?)

But still. It's Shannon Hale. Despite the pink and purple cover, we're talking about Shannon Hale -- who wrote Goose Girl and Book of a Thousand Days and Princess Academy, which all deal with royalty of course, but I LOVED them when I was younger. Princess Academy is still on my greater-favorites bookshelf. And anyways... I'm always a sucker for fairy tales.

I picked this up at my local library, and -- although a little embarrassed to bring it to school with me -- I began reading. It took two days. 150 pages a day, between school and writing, because I just had to make time for it.

This book was just... it was splendid. (Or, as Goldilocks's daughter says, "just right.") In this novel, the daughter of the Evil Queen and the daughter of Snow White are put in a room together at a boarding school where everyone must sign a pledge to follow the scripts of their parents, or else the story -- and them -- will die.

But the Evil Queen's daughter isn't... well, evil. She's a bit more shades of gray. And, despite the pretty, happy appearances she puts on, so is Apple White. The two pledge to be friends despite their story, but Raven's determination to avoid signing the Storybook and Apple's determination to keep her Happily Ever After eventually come into conflict throughout the novel, as Raven finds the name of a girl who didn't sign the Storybook and tries to find out what happened to her.

Let's start with the characters. Apple White is sickeningly a princess. Spoiled, pretty, but still nice. Throughout the whole. Freaking. Book. She helps Raven with her quest, she expects princes to always save her (as they usually do, seemingly unable to help themselves), and has animal critters help her do her work. She wants to be seen as a Queen who can pull her weight and run the kingdom nicely, but all most of them see is her beauty.

Raven, on the other hand, does not have princes saving her, and the woodland creatures avoid her at all costs. She's miserable, with her mother punishing her for being too kind and the group of "happily Ever After" royals at school generally looking down at her. But with this one name -- this girl who didn't sign the Storybook -- she finds a little bit of hope that she can escape her destiny. And, unlike Apple, she doesn't want anyone making this decision for her.

It's a great comment on choice and destiny -- on how, even with a magic book in the way, a person should always have the choice to choose the right destiny for herself. It shows how selfish both sides are, Apple wanting her Happily Ever After at Raven's cost, and Raven wanting to choose her own ending at Apple's cost. The light tone and princess-y subject matter only serve to underscore the conflict of both sides.

And, while we're at it, I actually like the plot and ending. (For once.) It's never slow or boring, and the ending fits just right. If there were any flaws (other than my hatred of Apple's goodness), they were entirely overlooked. As I said, I got through it in two days, when I really should have been focusing on schoolwork and writing.

 This book is part of a series, it seems -- the second book appears to be out on e-book -- and I cannot wait to pick up the second one. (But maybe I'll wait until it's in paper book format.) I would recommend this to anyone who still loves a good fairy tale, and a good twist on the familiar. While yes, it's probably MG and intended for a younger audience, it is still an amazing book.

Five stars. Easily.