Review: The Raven Boys

The Raven Boys
Maggie Stiefvater
2012
Scholastic
9780545424929

Blue Sargent has grown up in a household of clairvoyants. Each year, she and her mother go to the churchyard on St. Mark’s Eve to see the progression of those who will die within the coming year. Blue, whose presence makes others’ psychic powers stronger, has never seen the dead herself, until this year when she sees a boy named Gansey, a wealthy student at nearby Aglionby Academy. Blue typically sees such boys as trouble and to be avoided at all costs, but something about him and his friends and their quest to find a long-buried king intrigues her. Blue has always been warned that she may kill her true love with a kiss. She’s never worried about this before, but the more time she spends with the Raven Boys, the less sure she is.

I  really wanted to love The Raven Boys given how much I loved Stiefvater’s other books, but it didn’t quite measure up for me.  I don’t mind a bit of paranormal fiction but I feel all the talk of ley lines and spirit worlds was perhaps a bit much for me. I was much more interested in learning more about the Raven Boys themselves and their backgrounds, such as Adam the scholarship student and hotheaded Ronan. Stiefvater’s ability to create compelling characters is where this book shines. I do want to know if Gansey is indeed Blue’s true love despite her burgeoning romance with Adam. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.


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.

Review: The List

The List
Siobhan Vivian
2012
Push
978-0-545-16917-2

Every year at Mount Washington High School, a list is put out in the week leading up to homecoming naming the prettiest and ugliest girls in each grade. No one knows, who writes the list, but the tradition has continued for years. For freshman Abby, being on the list is exciting even if her older sister, Fern, resents her for it. Danielle worries her older boyfriend won’t like her anymore. Popular girl Candace knows being named ugliest must be a cruel joke, while Lauren, who had previously been homeschooled, is overwhelmed by her newfound popularity. Bridget obsesses over her weight despite being named prettiest, while Sarah rebels against traditional ideas of beauty. Jennifer is named ugliest for the fourth year in a row, while her former best friend, Margo is named prettiest. For each girl, being named to the list has lasting consequences.

I found The List an interesting read given all the girl-on-girl meanness in today’s pop culture, from Mean Girls to Gossip Girl and all the various Real Housewives shows. The list is created by girls, not guys. It’s bad enough for boys to judge girls by their looks and call them ugly, but somehow it seems even worse seeing girls turn on each other rather than stand together to protest such misogynistic treatment. The creator of the list is revealed at the end of the book, and while this person’s identity may surprise you, I found the ending fell flat. I was hoping for more, some kind of statement about self-esteem or bullying or something a bit more meaningful than what I got. Still, The List was an interesting read that attempts to examine the way the opinions of others can damage the way girls see themselves.

Review: I Was Jane Austen’s Best Friend

I Was Jane Austen’s Best Friend
Cora Harrison
2010
Macmillan
978-0-330-50953-4

Told in diary format, this is story of Jane Austen’s cousin, Jenny Cooper. The novel begins with the two girls away at boarding school. Jane is deathly ill, so Jenny sneaks out in the middle of the night, something considered quite scandalous at the time, to send word to her aunt. Wandering the streets of Southampton alone and terrified, she meets Captain Thomas Williams, who is kind enough to escort her to the post office. Upon hearing of Jane’s illness, Mrs. Austen arrives and brings both girls home to Steventon. There, Jenny meets Jane’s family and attends her first ball. Everything is going well until Captain Williams shows up. Will he reveal her secret and thus ruin her reputation?

I am a huge Jane Austen fan, so I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. I didn’t know anything about Jenny Cooper or many of Jane’s brothers, so this novel, based on facts learned from the author’s research, including family letters, was quite intriguing. Jane comes across as quite witty and full of life, and it is easy to imagine this Jane as the author of such novels as Pride and Prejudice and Emma. I think telling the story from Jenny’s perspective gives us an interesting perspective since, like Jenny, the reader is an outsider getting to know the Austen family. A light tale recommended to Austen fans who want more Jane without having to stoop to reading “sequels” written by impostors. Side note: The BBC has done some excellent adaptations of Austen’s novels in recent years as part of their Masterpiece Theatre series. I particularly enjoy Emma. Harriet Smith’s ringlets alone make this worth a watch.