Review: (You) Set Me on Fire

(You) Set Me on Fire
Mariko Tamaki
Penguin Canada
2012
9780143180937

Allison has been burned in the past – literally and figuratively. A failed high school romance resulted in emotional and physical scars, but now Allison is off to college, where she can be whoever she wants to be. When she meets Shar outside a frat party, Allison is instantly drawn to her. The two quickly become inseparable, blowing off school to party and making fun of the “normal” girls in their student residence. As their friendship begins to become toxic, will Allison once again go down in flames?

I was inspired to read this book after hearing author Mariko Tamaki read from it at The Word on the Street in September. I guess this book could be considered part of the emerging “new adult” trend since it is about the college experience. I found this to be a nice change from reading about younger teens in high school. While I can’t say my university life was anything like Allison’s, having recently finished graduate school at a school where last night’s partying was a frequent topic of discussion among the undergrads on the bus, I can still somewhat relate. Allison finds herself in a number of awkward situations throughout the book, and these stories, such as getting sick from too many shots after climbing the “Tower of Power” at a frat party, are laugh-out-loud funny. Tamaki does an excellent job of capturing a young adult’s dialogue and worldview. Readers will cringe at Allison’s misfortunes while still rooting for her to get her life in order.

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Review: 1982

1982
Jian Ghomeshi
2012
Penguin Group (Canada)
978-0-670-06648-3

1982 is the story of an Iranian teenage boy growing up in the highly suburban (and highly Caucasian) community of Thornhill in the early 80s, desperately trying to be cool. In this case being cool means David Bowie, lots of black clothing, a little eyeliner, and a whole lot of hair gel. The book chronicles both Jian’s musical education and attempts to be “New Wave” as well as his desire to win the affections of a Bowie-esque girl named Wendy.

I was curious to read this book based on the popularity of Ghomeshi’s program, Q. I admit I don’t really listen to the radio or watch CBC on a regular basis, but he seems to be something of a Canadian media icon so I figured why not? I should be broadening my horizons and reading more non-fiction, so I gave 1982 a try. I did enjoy some parts of the book, such as the story of how the Ghomeshi’s home was mistaken for a brothel because of the red lamps his father so loved or the loss of young Jian’s prized Adidas bag at the hands of an angry punk. I got frustrated in places where I found the text a bit too repetitive. I get it, Wendy looks like Bowie. Bowie is cool. Thornhill is full of white people. Some of these points were belaboured a bit much for my liking, but I was still able to enjoy most of the book, including all the references to 80s technology that I still remember with something resembling fondness. Who knows, maybe I’ll check out Q one day.

Review: Words That Start With B

Words That Start With B
Vikki VanSickle
2011
Scholastic
978-1-4431-0235-3

Seventh grade was supposed to be the best year of Clarissa Delaney’s life. Instead, she ends up with the wrong teacher, a best friend who is bullied and can’t stand up for himself, a teacher’s pet trying to be her friend, and a boy with a crush on her. But none of these things can compare to the possibility of losing her mom.

This book hit close to home for me, having lost my own mother to breast cancer, though as an adult, not a twelve-year-old girl. Clarissa is too embarrassed by the “B word” to even talk about what is going on with her mom. Middle school is never an easy time, but Clarissa finds a way to get through everything that is thrown at her with a sense of humour and the help of some new friends. I really connected with these characters. Clarissa is a smart girl whose smart mouth may sometimes get her in trouble, but she has a good heart and tries to protect Benji from the bullies, and her relationship with her mom is truly special. A great coming-of-age story.