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 Imposter Bride

The Imposter Bride
Nancy Richler
2012
HarperCollins
978-1-44340-402-0

When Lily Azerov arrives in Montreal after World War II, she expects to marry Sol Kramer. However, after Sol has a change of heart, Lily marries his brother, Nathan, instead. But an uninvited guest at their wedding knows Lily is not who she claims to be. One day, Lily disappears suddenly, leaving behind her baby daughter, a notebook, and an uncut diamond. As she grows up, Lily’s daughter, Ruth, tries to figure out exactly who her mother was and what happened to the woman whose identity she stole.

I had mixed feelings upon finishing this book. I enjoyed the mystery surrounding Lily and finding out little by little who she really was and how she found herself in Montreal in 1946. However, I did feel part of the mystery wasn’t really explained. At various points in her childhood Ruth receives packages from her mother containing rocks, with an index card noting the location where the rock was found, the time, date, and weather conditions. We never find out the significance of these rocks, if any. It seems an odd way for a woman to communicate with the daughter she left behind but we never know why she did this. Maybe I’m just not a fan of loose ends, but I found this to be a let-down after all the buildup throughout what was otherwise a highly enjoyable novel. The Imposter Bride was short listed for the 2012 Giller Prize.

 

Review: Money Boy by Paul Yee

Money Boy
Paul Yee
2011
Groundwood Books
978-1-55498-094-9
*Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy*

When Ray Liu’s father finds out he is gay, he is kicked out of the house. Ray’s dad, an army veteran and Chinese immigrant, can’t accept a son who doesn’t share his traditional values. Ray tries to make a life for himself in downtown Toronto, but is soon robbed. Left without money or his cell phone, Ray struggles to survive. Will he have to sell himself for sex in order to survive?

This gritty novel tells the tale of a young man who struggles to fit in. Ray’s friends, while immigrants like himself, have a much easier time learning English and adapting to Western culture. Ray’s family can’t accept his homosexuality, leaving Ray with nowhere to turn. Yee’s novel touches on two groups whose stories are often untold in mainstream YA: immigrants and GLBTQ teens. Ray’s descent into prostitution is heartbreaking to read. Fortunately, there is hope at the end of the novel. The subject matter makes this book more suitable for older teens.

 

Review: Tilt by Alan Cumyn

Tilt
Alan Cumyn
2011
Groundwood Books
978-1-55498-119-9
*Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy*

Stanley Dart’s world is full of chaos. His mother is constantly suffering from anxiety, his little sister lives in her own little world, and his father hasn’t been heard from in years. Stan is determined to make the varsity basketball team, but when Janine Igwash begins paying him attention, he becomes distracted. When Stan’s father shows up with Stan’s half brother in tow, all hell seems about to break loose.

I found it refreshing to read a YA book told from a male perspective. So many of the books I have read have female protagonists, so I would like to see more books aimed at boys. Stan’s troubles felt very real, from his chaotic home life to his raging hormones. Cumyn does a great job of taking the reader inside the mind of a teenage boy. Some of the content is a bit graphic, so this book would be more appropriate for older teens.

 

Review: The Cat’s Table

The Cat’s Table
Michael Ondaatje
2011
McClelland & Stewart
978-0-7710-6864-5

In the 1950s, an eleven-year-old boy named Michael boards the Oronsay en route to England to reconnect with his mother, whom he has not seen for years. At mealtimes, he is seated at the Cat’s Table, about as far removed from the Captain’s Table as one can get. There, he meets a cast of eccentric characters, including two other boys who become his constant companions as they explore the secrets of the ship and its passengers.

I really enjoyed reading the tales of each member of the Cat’s Table, especially Miss Lasqueti, whose mild appearance belies hidden talents. Michael is an engaging narrator and the story flows smoothly. I wasn’t completely blown away by the novel but I did find it an interesting glimpse of a period in someone’s life and the impact people can have on us in even a short time

Review: The Book Thief

The Book Thief
Markus Zusak
2005
Alfred A. Knopf
978-0-375-84220-7

Set in Nazi Germany during World War II, The Book Thief tells the story of an orphaned girl named Liesel who develops a love of words – to the point that she begins to steal books in order to continue her love of reading.

This was my first time reading Zusak. I had started reading this book back in the winter but got distracted when a number of holds came in from the library. I’m glad I made my way back to it, though. I was very touching and well-written. At first, the idea of Death as the narrator took some getting used to, but I think Zusak pulled it off well. I’m not normally someone who reads for language (normally I prefer  a plot with lots of action and a compelling cast of characters), but I admired the author’s ability to create beautiful images with words. I found myself really caring for the characters and anxious to know whether they would survive the war. I look forward to reading I Am The Messenger in the near future.

 

Review: Baby Proof

Baby Proof
Emily Giffin
2006
St. Martin’s Press
0-312-34864-9

Book editor Claudia and her architect husband, Ben, have agreed they don’t want kids. That is until one of them has a change of heart. Can they find a way to make their marriage work?

*spoilers*

I have to say, I was disappointed with this book. I picked it up because I was curious to see how the author would resolve her characters’ dilemma. Claudia is adamant about not wanting children, yet as the novel progresses she realizes she really loves Ben, to the point that she would be willing to have a baby with him if that was what it took to get him back. I didn’t find Claudia’s change of heart very convincing. It seemed she was only open to having a baby in order to get back together with Ben, and I don’t think this is a solid reason to have a child. It would be one thing if Giffin had made me believe Claudia really did come around to the idea of motherhood and actually wanted a baby for herself, but it seemed she was just doing it to please Ben. When Claudia and Ben get back together at the end of the book, they don’t even resolve the issue that split them up in the first place. Claudia is still unsure whether she will be a mother someday. It seems to me that they could just as easily break up again since really, nothing has changed other than Claudia is at least willing to consider motherhood. If I were Ben I don’t know if that would be enough for me. The ending felt like a cop-out to me and kind of made the whole book feel like a waste of my time.

 

Review: Room by Emma Donoghue

Room
Emma Donoghue
HarperCollins Canada
2010
9781554688319

Five-year-old Jack has never known a world outside of Room, the 11′ x 11′ space he inhabits with Ma, who was abducted seven years ago from her college campus. The novel, told from Jack’s point of view, follows their attempt to escape from Room and lead a normal life.

It took me a while to get my hands on a copy of this award-winning novel, given the massive holds list at my local library. At first, I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it. Jack’s narration took some getting used to, and since Room is so isolated from the outside world, not a lot happens there. I was beginning to get bored with hearing the details of what Jack ate for lunch, though I did enjoy seeing the ways Ma tried to create a somewhat normal environment for him by having “phys ed” and story times. One other detail that bugged me was the constant references to breastfeeding. I suppose Ma continued to breastfeed Jack because it gave him comfort, but I found it annoying how often it came up.

For me, the real highlight of this book was the part after Ma and Jack escape from Room. Seeing Jack discover the world beyond what he has seen on TV provided a lot of humour and allowed me to really warm up to his character. It also introduced new characters, such as Jack’s grandmother and Steppa, which helped round out the story. Although I ended up enjoying the book and really appreciated that it was something different from what I’ve been reading lately, I wasn’t as blown away as I expected to be given all the hype. Still, a worthwhile read.

Review: If I Stay and Where She Went

If I Stay                                                      
Gayle Forman
Dutton Books
2009
978-0-525-42103-0                              

Where She Went
Gayle Forman
Dutton Books
2011
978-0-525-42294-5

I read these two books back-to-back, and unfortunately didn’t enjoy them equally. If I Stay is the story of Mia, a teenage girl whose family has just been killed in a car accident. Mia herself is in critical condition, and she has a sort of out-of-body experience in which she can observe herself lying a hospital bed and see and hear everything going on around her. She has a difficult decision to make – to live, knowing how terrible life will be without her family, or to die and save herself the pain of living without them. I don’t often cry over books, but this one brought tears to my eyes. I know how it feels to lose a parent, but not to lose two parents and a brother so suddenly and at such a young age. Forman’s novel is beautifully written, and her characters are very engaging.

If you haven’t read If I Stay, you should probably skip the rest of this post since it contains spoilers.

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As much as I loved If I Stay, I didn’t have the same feelings about Where She Went. This book is told from Mia’s high school boyfriend Adam’s point of view. At the end of If I Stay, Adam pleads with Mia to come back to him, promising to let her leave Oregon without a fight and go off to Julliard if that’s what she needs, so long as she’s still alive. Mia apparently takes up him on this offer. When she leaves for New York, she never comes back, and eventually stops talking to Adam altogether with no explanation. Where She Went is set three years after If I Stay, and we learn through flashbacks how Adam and Mia’s relationship fell apart. It isn’t until the end of the book that we really find out why Mia broke things off with no explanation, and after all that lead-in, her reasons felt weak to me. I liked Mia a lot in If I Stay, and I hard time reconciling that Mia with the Mia who just left Adam with no explanation. I found the pacing of this book a bit slow as well, and it wasn’t until the last hundred pages or so that I really got interested. While this book demonstrates that relationships are complicated and can change as you get older, I think I would have been perfectly happy just reading the first book.

Review: Some Girls Are

 

 

 

Some Girls Are
Courtney Summers
St. Martin’s Griffin
2010
978-0-312-57380-5

Regina Afton used to be one of the popular girls at Hallowell High. But ever since rumours started circulating about her hooking up with her best friend Anna’s boyfriend, Donny, at a party, she’s been frozen out. The rumours aren’t true, but no one believes her. Regina forms an uneasy friendship with Michael, a loner whom she used to bully. But when Regina’s former friends start to target Michael, can Regina and Michael’s relationship survive?

I recently read Summers’s first novel, Cracked Up To Be, and loved it, so I was eager to read Some Girls Are. I was not disappointed. A lot of us endure some kind of bullying in our childhood and teen years, but my personal experiences were nowhere near as awful as Regina’s. The Mean Girls in this book are truly frightening, and it makes me wonder how many teens are dealing with similar situations every day. The fact that Regina is a former bully herself doesn’t prevent the reader from feeling sympathy for her. She’s a flawed character for sure, but she comes to realize her mistakes and regret being influenced so heavily by Anna. I also enjoyed Regina’s reluctance to back down. She stands up to her tormentors as best she can and her feelings for Michael are genuine. My only complaint about this book is that the ending felt a bit sudden. I didn’t find it as satisfying as I was expecting to. Maybe that’s what makes it more realistic, but after all the build-up I wanted a bit more. Overall, though, a compelling read.