Jenny's Library

Reading Round-up 2014: week 13

Posted on: September 5, 2014

cover image for Nikki and DejaNikki and Deja by Karen English, illustrated by Laura Freeman

“Nikki and Deja are best friends.”  Neighbors and classmates, they spend as much time as they can together.  But when a new girl, Antonia, arrives and starts a club – one that only some people can join – Nikki and Deja’s friendship begins to look like it might not last, after all.

I feel guilty calling this merely a good chapter book, rather than using glowing superlatives to describe it.  The truth is that most chapter books are so awful that this novel is absolutely wonderful and amazingly written by comparison.  The characters have personality, with out feeling cartoonish, and their dilemmas are both realistic and age appropriate.  English does a wonderful job of including the right kind of details, ones that give the story life without being overwhelming to new readers.  The prose fails to be as memorable as the story, and I’d like better for new readers, but this is a chapter book after all – vocabulary limits make that incredibly difficult. It’s hardly a masterpiece, but it’s solid and I highly recommend it.

I am, however, slightly disappointed in the quality of the book design. With apologies to Freeman (whose interior illustrations are perfect) the cover just doesn’t work for me and I can’t see that it would be terribly appealing to kids either.  All of which I wanted to point out not because I dislike it that much but because covers sell books.  So I see passable but not brilliant covers as another weak link in the chain when it comes to promoting “diverse” authors and books, and I wanted to note that here for future conversations.

cover image for Eleanor and ParkEleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Moving back home means that Eleanor gets to see her siblings, that she can be there to take care of them.  It also means watching what she does and says around her stepfather, and starting a new high school.  Park doesn’t mean to take pity on the new – and very weird – girl on the bus, the last thing he needs is to commit social suicide.  Yet he does so anyway.  But he isn’t going to talk to her.  Until he notices her glancing over at his comics as he reads them on the bus, and Park starts to make sure that she’s done with the page before he turns it.  Soon, Park is making her mixed tapes and Eleanor is thinking that maybe some people can be trusted after all.

I devoured this book in one night, it was that good.  Rowell has crafted a lovely story, full of stolen moments and the kinds of secrets that need to be told.  It’s refreshing to see miscommunication in a romantic relationship that actually makes sense, and to see it being worked out rather than resolved by the plot.  It should be noted that there have been complaints about Park, whose mother is from Vietnam, and how he and his family are described and portrayed.  Rowell does an excellent job handling the Eleanor’s home life, however, and how she is affected by both poverty and abuse.

cover image for We Were LiarsWe Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Candence spends every summer with her family on a private island off the coast of Masachusetts. And every summer she and her cousins run wild, unhampered by schoolwork or schedules or even neighbors.  Every summer except the last one, which Cady spent in Europe with her father, hating ever minute of it, desperate for emails and texts from her cousins, which never came. When Cady arrives at the island this summer, she and her cousins pick up where they left off, as if nothing had ever happened. Only Cady knows that something did happen, something their last summer together that caused the headaches she’s had ever since.  The problem is that Cady has no idea what it was; she’s been having trouble remembering things since that night as well.

I absolutely hated reading this book.

It’s not a terrible book, but my frustrations with it only increased with each page, making it not at all enjoyable to read.  Much of the suspense rests on the reveal of the twist at the end, which I’d figured out early on.  I think the book is supposed to work even if you know truth (much like Code Name Verity actually does) – that knowing the truth changes the experience rather than detracting from it .  But for me, it didn’t succeed in doing this.  Add to that the fact that it’s a book about privilege* which makes a really big mistake in terms of privilege, and I’m afraid to admit that the warmest response I can muster to this book is “meh.”

Which makes me sad because I usually love Lockhart’s books.

cover image for The Fox InheritanceThe Fox Inheritance by Mary E. Pearson

[The basic plot for this book is a spoiler for the entire first novel, so I’m putting it behind the cut.]

Two hundred years ago, Locke, Kara, and Jenna were victims in a tragic car crash that left all three near death.  But before their bodies stopped working completely, Jenna’s father saved their minds through cutting edge – and not entirely legal – technology.  Jenna’s body was rebuilt and she was given a new life, but Locke and Kara could not be saved, or so she thought.  Now, two centuries after their death, Locke and Kara are alive once again – and with new, improved bodies that are the property of the scientist that brought them back to life.

While not nearly as entertaining or thought-provoking as the first book, this sequel is still worth reading.  The drama between Locke, Kara, and Jenna – and the villainous Dr. Ash – felt shallow to me (not in terms of plot, but how it came across on the page)  especially compared to the aching loss and betrayal found in the first novel.  But the future Pearson has created is fascinating, and I loved the questions brought up by the existence of the AutoBots.

*I strongly suggest reading Ana’s review over at the Book Smugglers.  She says lots of smart things, as usual, and well as all kinds of things I want to say but can’t be bothered, and much more.

2 Responses to "Reading Round-up 2014: week 13"

I kind of wonder if there’s a correlation between people who really, really love Code Name Verity and people for whom We Were Liars really didn’t work. I had the EXACT same reaction: the twist didn’t work, the examination of privilege didn’t work, and the forgiveness at the end felt so unearned that it just left me annoyed. I don’t know exactly how to put into words why all of those fell flat for me, but they so did.

Liz B said some smart things in the comments of the Book Smugglers review…but I dunno that she is right about the issue people are having is the combination of an unlikeable character + the idea that we are supposed to see our own privilege in her situation. Because I didn’t mind Cady being unlikeable, and while I didn’t really buy what had happened I’ve known kids that have done stupid things.

No, for some reason it bothered me so much more that the adults were so selfish and unprincipled, and that supposedly their grief brought them together, and brought them more maturity. THAT is what had me going “wtf” the most throughout the whole book, I think.

I seemed like Cady had been thought through, as a character, but no one else had. And that the other characters acted in inconsistent ways that can’t be attributed to it being told from Cady’s point of view.

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